Death Valley unfortunately lived up to its name earlier this week, when an Ohio hiker failed to return from a day trip in the park.
On Tuesday morning, May 19, employees at Death Valley National Park received a report of an overdue hiker in the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes near Stove Pipe Wells Village. The dunes in that area rise nearly 100 feet above the surrounding desert.
The hiker was identified as Jay Haverstick, 69, of Dayton, Ohio, who’d been traveling with his old college roommate, recreating a trip that the two had taken over 40 years ago. According to his traveling companion, Haverstick had left their motel room at Stove Pipe Wells at 6:30 a.m., saying that he was going to the dunes to take some photographs.
Rangers found his rental vehicle at the sand dunes and began a hasty search. Air temperatures reached 112 degrees Fahrenheit, with substantially higher ground temperatures within the dunes.
A California Highway Patrol H80 helicopter assisted in the search. Because of the extreme conditions, searchers had to be rotated out of assignments for rest and rehabilitation at hour-and-a-half to two hour intervals. The winds picked up in the afternoon, creating some blowing sand and visibility problems.
Search efforts for the first operational period ended shortly before nightfall with no sign of Haverstick detected. Search efforts resumed at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, with additional resources brought in, including an air scent/cadaver dog from Inyo County Search and Rescue.
The CHP H80 was back on scene by 9 a.m. and located Haverstick’s body within minutes. The Inyo County coroner came to the scene, and after his initial investigation, Haverstick’s body was flown out to the incident command post at the Stove Pipe Wells Ranger Station and was later transported to a funeral home in Lone Pine, California.
An autopsy will be conducted, but all indications are that exposure, possibly combined with other significant medical issues, lead to his death, probably on the previous day.
According to media reports, the victim was found about one and one-half miles from his car.