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Accidents Claim Lives Across The National Park System


Summer hasn't yet officially arrived, yet the number of visitors dying during visits to units of the National Park System is growing.

During the last two weeks of May at least six visitors died in the parks, some from drownings, others from vehicle accidents, and one during a descent of Mount McKinley.

* On May 20 a 17-year-old swimming with friends in a creek at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area drowned. According to Chief Ranger Randy Scoggins, Devin Prichard had jumped off a boulder into North White Oak Creek with one of his friends.

"While swimming around the boulder and back to shore, Prichard started struggling and went underwater," the chief ranger reported. "Several people helped pull him out. CPR was started immediately. Because there was no cell phone reception in the area, some members of the group drove down the road until they were able to call 911."

* On May 21 a German visitor hiking in Saguaro National Park collapsed and died. Acting-Chief Ranger Robert Stinson reported that the 35-year-old woman was hiking on the Hugh Norris Trail with a partner, also from Germany, when she collapsed.

"Her partner attempted to revive her with water, but was unsuccessful. He then ran down the trail to his vehicle and drove to the visitor center to report the incident," Ranger Stinson said. "A ranger and personnel from Picture Rocks Fire Department responded. When they got to the woman’s location, they found that she had expired. Investigation revealed that the couple had headed out for Wesson Peak at 7 a.m. and reached the summit just before 11 a.m. While on the return trip, she told her partner that she was not feeling well. Shortly thereafter, she collapsed and became unconscious. Neither was carrying a cell phone and help was not readily available. The temperature high for Tucson that day was 105 degrees."

* On May 23, a Finnish mountaineer descending Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park on skis died when he fell and tumbled about 2,000 feet.

* On May 26 at New River Gorge National River, "59-year-old Eddie Ramsey was ferrying camping gear across the New River to a camp near Short Creek above Double Z rapid when the jon boat he was in capsized," says Chief Ranger Jeff West. "Ramsey and his extended family were gathered for their traditional Memorial Day Weekend near Nuttalburg, West Virginia. Ramsey, who grew up in the area, had many years of experience operating a jon boat. The New River was flowing approximately 8,000 cubic feet per second at the time, about 4.5 feet above normal summer pool. He and his son had just started across the river when the boat filled with water and capsized. Neither man was wearing a life vest. Ramsey's son made it to shore, but Eddie Ramsey was having trouble. Family members went in the river to help him ashore, but he was unresponsive."

* On May 27, "an accident involving a motorized truck tour left one man dead and seriously injured four others at Canyon de Chelly National Monument near Chinle, Arizona," park rangers reported. "Richard Crowe, 60, a resident of Hawaii, died in the accident which occurred shortly after noon in the upper Del Muerto Canyon section of the national monument. He was among 13 passengers and a driver aboard a tour truck when the vehicle left the road and rolled down an embankment. Four other people were airlifted to Flagstaff and San Juan Hospitals. The remaining passengers were treated locally and released.

"The tour truck belonged to Thunderbird Lodge, an independent concessions operation at the park. The accident site is in a remote section of the park about 16 miles into the backcountry, and emergency communications were limited. National Park Service staff, Navajo police, the Apache County sheriff, Indian Health Service, and search and rescue from Chinle, Ganado, and Kayenta responded to the accident. Five helicopters and six ambulances were dispatched to the scene. The tour truck involved in the accident is a Korean War-vintage, 6-wheel drive truck with an open rear seating area. The Apache County Sheriff Office is leading the investigation. NPS rangers and the Navajo police are assisting with the accident investigation, which is currently ongoing. While the accident is being investigated, the upper portion of Del Muerto Canyon in Canyon de Chelly National Monument remains closed to tour companies above Twin Trails. The NPS has also suspended all Thunderbird Lodge motorized tour operations pending safety inspections of the concessioner’s vehicles."

* On May 30 another man died at New River Gorge. Chief Ranger West reports that "shortly after 6 p.m., rangers received a 911 report that CPR was in progress on a man at the Stone Cliff River Landing in New River Gorge National River. Dwayne Allen Cooper, a 43-year-old man from Mount Hope, West Virginia, was swimming with his fiancé’s children about 15 feet out in the river when one of the children noticed that Cooper had disappeared in the river. The children called out to their mother who was on the beach. Cooper’s fiancé, a certified nursing assistant, ran into the river and found Cooper who was unconscious and unresponsive."

* During Memorial Day Weekend, high winds created havoc on Lake Powell at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Rangers ended up rescuing 10 boaters, including a kayaker who spent 90 minutes in the water after his craft overturned. A swimmer from a houseboat disappeared in the water after winds blew the houseboat away, according to park reports.

Despite being vacation destinations, national park settings can be dangerous if you're not careful, attentive, and know your capabilities. Let's be safe out there this summer.


Every few months, the local paper runs the "Ranger Report," which is a list of search and rescue calls the state forest rangers have made. While many are just because of bad luck, a large percentage are due to people having a higher opinion of their capabilities than is warranted, or lacking in recognition that what they "know" and expect is not the case in the wilderness.

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