Yosemite Waterfall Deaths Put National Parks’ Safety Under Scrutiny

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

A vista point over Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park, where three hikers are presumed dead after losing their footing in the water on Tuesday.

Three hikers were swept over Yosemite’s Vernal Fall this week, after bypassing signs and climbing over a metal guardrail to get into the park’s swollen waters.

The bodies of the hikers—Ramina Badal, 21; Hormiz David, 22; and Ninos Yacoub, 27—have yet to be found, though witnesses saw them go over the falls and struggle in the moments before. The group was roughly 25 feet from the fall’s edge. Badal slipped first. A second tried to save her and slipped. The third then tried and failed in an attempt to save the other two. The waters were, and are, stronger than usual, bolstered by a late snow-melt, and the hikers are all presumed dead. A press release from the park describes the current as dangerous, the waters as “flowing swiftly and extremely cold.”

Of the 12 people who have ever gone over the 317-foot Vernal Fall, none has survived, a park official told the Los Angeles Times. And this accident brings Yosemite to its sixth water-related death this year. Two hikers drowned in a reservoir in June; another slipped into a river in May. The park continues to urge visitors to use extreme caution as the winter snowpack continues to thaw, causing higher-than-normal water levels over coming weeks.

(PHOTOS: Yosemite National Park: 120 Years in Pictures)

The incident has led to questions about whether park rangers are as vigilant as they should be when it comes to reprimanding those who stray from the trails—and whether that kind of zealous policing would have much deterrent effect in any case. It has also brought renewed attention to how the beauty of America’s waterways can belie their danger, especially in a year when weather has been so volatile. Some are calling this incident a “cautionary tale.”

The dangers of nature, water and land, is a perennial story. Climbing deaths have recurred at Yosemite over the years. Rock slides and high winds pushing over trees have even been deadly for visitors. But there is a balance to be struck between protecting people from nature and facilitating their fullest enjoyment of it at national parks. Such tragic events are powerful stories but also rarities among the some 4 million visitors that annually visit Yosemite National Park.

Katy Steinmetz is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @KatySteinmetz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

LIST: Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About National Parks