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French student in fatal Royal National Park fall 'may have been taking photos'

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Megan Levy and Michael Koziol

Police are investigating whether a French student who plunged 40 metres off a cliff in the Royal National Park was taking or posing for photographs when he lost his grip and fell to his death.

Fabien Ardoin, a 23-year-old University of Wollongong student, was believed to be hanging from a ledge in the park when the sandstone crumbled and he fell. 

Mr Ardoin's traumatised girlfriend and six other friends were with him when he fell about 10.30am on Sunday. His family in France were notified of his death overnight, a NSW Police spokeswoman said.

The accident occurred on a section of The Coast Track near Wedding Cake Rock, a popular spot south of Bundeena where bushwalkers often stop to take and pose for photographs.

The police spokeswoman said officers were investigating whether the man was taking photographs with his friends when the accident occurred.

"That is one line of inquiry that we are following up," she said.

"All indications at the moment are that it was an accidental death, there is nothing suspicious."

Inspector Chris Hill, from the Sutherland local area command, said police were still in the process of interviewing the other bushwalkers, also from the University of Wollongong, who were with him at the time of his death.

Mr Ardoin identified himself online as an engineer and a part-time model with Slides Model Agency in Paris.

On his LinkedIn profile, Mr Ardoin wrote that he grew up in a small village about two hours from Paris, and from a young age knew he wanted to travel.

"I remember at the age of 12, I told [my parents] that I couldn't see myself living in just one country, that life was a gift where each of us should pave his own way," he wrote.

Mr Ardoin had also studied and worked in Canada and China, and worked for four years as a rock-climbing instructor in France.

At the time of his death, he was living in Wollongong and was a visiting research student at the University of Wollongong's Sustainable Buildings Research Centre.

Professor Paul Cooper, the centre's director, said everyone was deeply saddened by Mr Ardoin's sudden death.

“Fabien was a wonderful young man who was loved by all of us for his larger-than-life personality, his cheeky smile and his friendly approach to everyone. We will miss him enormously," he said.

“Our deepest sympathy and heartfelt condolences go out to Fabien’s family and friends.” 

The university has arranged counselling for students who were with him in the Royal National Park, and anyone affected by his death.

Following his death, one woman wrote on Mr Ardoin's Facebook page: "So sad. RIP Fabien. Fate dealt you a fatal blow yesterday. God Bless you."

Authorities attempted to reach Mr Ardoin's body early on Sunday but high winds and rough seas impeded recovery efforts, Inspector Mark Magrath said.

The State Emergency Service rigged anchor points into the bedrock and abseiled down the cliff to recover his body about 6.30pm on Sunday.

Mr Ardoin's friends and girlfriend were taken to Sutherland Police Station for questioning and are being offered support.

Inspector Scott Deller, from the Rural Fire Service Sutherland branch, said the terrain around Little Marley Beach was "fairly flat" and was a popular walking spot.

"Particularly on a weekend it’s extremely popular for people to walk what’s referred to as The Coast Track," he said.

The cliffs along the escarpment pose the biggest threat to safety and "if you did fall off it wouldn’t be a very favourable outcome", Mr Deller said.

Jenna Mollross, 26, who was hiking at the cliff at about 11am on Sunday, said the 10-kilometre walk from Little Marley to Wattamolla was a well-known hiking trail with at least 20 metres between the path and the cliff’s edge.

‘‘There is no barrier but there’s a lot of space,’’ she said.

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