By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A "superstar" medical student at Stanford University was killed after plunging down a steep slope while climbing a nearly 14,000-foot (4,267-meter) California mountain peak, police and the university said on Wednesday.
Maria Birukova, 26, slipped and fell some 800 to 1,000 feet as she sought to ascend Bear Creek Spire in the John Muir Wilderness over the weekend with her climbing partner, the Inyo County Sheriff's Office said. Her body was recovered on Tuesday.
"Maria was one of our superstars," Stanford professor Dr. Paul Utz said in a statement on the university's website. "We in the program are devastated that she won't now be able to fulfill her other dream of becoming a physician-scientist."
Utz said that Birukova, a native of Moscow who came to Stanford after graduating from Yale University with a degree in biomedical engineering, was an avid climber and mountaineer.
"In fact, she struggled to choose whether to attend Stanford or the University of Utah for her graduate training because in Utah the mountains are so close," he said.
According to the university, Birukova was awarded the Bio-X Bowes graduate student fellowship earlier this year in recognition of her groundbreaking research into the treatment of antibiotic-resistant wounds.
She also served as a consulting project manager for the volunteer-run Stanford Healthcare Consulting Group and was a 2015-16 Graduate Voice and Influence Program Fellow through Stanford's Clayman Institute for Gender Research.
"The medical school community has suffered a tremendous loss," Dr. Lloyd Minor, dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine said.
Birukova's climbing partner saw her lose her footing and fall as they were attempting to traverse the route to Bear Creek Spire on Sunday, the sheriff's department said, but by the time he reached her at the bottom of the steep chute she was deceased.
Search teams attempted to recover her remains on Monday but were deterred until the following morning by high winds on the mountain, according to the sheriff's department.
Bear Creek Spire is a 13,726-foot-high peak in the Sierra Nevada Mountains southeast of Yosemite.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb, editing by G Crosse)