Young Woman Dies After Being Submerged in Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park

A young woman from Taiwan visiting Yellowstone National Park has died from injuries sustained when she slipped into the Firehole River near Old Faithful, according to park officials.

The 22-year-old woman fell into the river Tuesday afternoon, a park release said. Lin Ching-Ling, a Taiwanese national, apparently fell into the river about 1:30 p.m. and was submerged for about five minutes before another visitor dived in and pulled her out from about 10 feet under water, the release said.

He then brought her to the water’s edge, yelled for help, and immediately began CPR.

A doctor and two nurses who happened to be in the area quickly took over CPR efforts, the release said. When park paramedics and rangers arrived, CPR was continued for about 40 minutes on-scene, when the patient regained a pulse. She was then taken by ambulance to Madison Junction where a waiting helicopter transported her to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

According to hospital officials, she was pronounced dead at 10:10 p.m. Tuesday.

Comments

I wonder if this occurred at the Firehole Swim Area off Firehole Drive south of Madison Junction...a beautiful location but also a place where I was always surprised at the lack of fatalities considering the relative risks of the river features (and large amount of cliff jumping occurring.)

It was in the fire hole swimming area. We were there....it is very sad. Some of the members of her party said she could not swim. Not sure how true that is but that is what the one person said...very tragic.

Anyone know why it took five minutes for someone to go in after her?

Regarding the apparent 5-minute lack of attention, it seems unlikely anyone timed it on a watch, so I wouldn't necessarily put too much stock in that figure, though it may have seemed like forever. Also, it may not have been obvious that she was unable to swim or that she was at risk of drowning. There have been a number of articles recently about the fact that drowning victims usually don't struggle or call out (since they're usually too short of breath) so that may have contributed to the slow response among by-standers.

I too have always wondered that swimming is allowed in that part (or for that matter, any part) of the Firehole. Maybe it will be reconsidered in light of this sad event.

This is tragic accident and my condolances to her family. Drownings happen daily. Do we close all the lakes and rivers? Traffic accidents happen. Do we stop all driving? I have been to the area several times and it is an excellent place to swim and recreate while in the park for both visitors and park employees. No reason to suggest closing!

It was about 5 minutes....She passed right behind my husband and I. She was very polite and said excuse me....everyone had their eyes fixed on the boys that were jumping off the high rocks...that is why not a single person (my husband, myself and our two friends) out of about twenty people did not notice her under the water and the water is very deep in the middle cove. She was pulled from the lower end.

Well, cliff jumping is certainly prohibited. Lot of good it does.

This was an employee of the park, as am I. I'm saddened to hear of this loss. There isn't a "fix" for this; we can't say people need to learn how to swim or that it needs to be banned in this area--the tragedy has already occurred and life is gone. All we can do is warn others to prevent future occurrences.

According to the friends she was traveling with and the news story she was employed in big sky at the resort. There seemed to be some confusion at the scene....a large group said she was there with them and I heard another couple say she was a house keeper at the old faithful inn....which none of that matters...I hope and pray this never happens again and my thoughts and prayers are with her family and friends. RIP.

I was the doctor that happened to be at the scene. We drove up just as someone was calling for help. This was very tragic and very sad for all involved. Unfortunately, allowing personal freedom involves risk which is a part of life. Yellowstone is a wild and beautiful area but dangerous for the same reasons. The beauty can lead one to forget the danger. None the less, this was a very unusual event. There have only been 3 reported drownings total in this swimming area since the park opened. That is actually a good safety record given the number of years the park has been in existance and the large number of visitors there. While we were there, a death related to a grizzly bear occurred, a death from a bison, and a death the previous week of a climber in Grand Tetons related to lightning. These are all tragic deaths but we should not remove all the bear and bison (you would definately have to also remove all the elk as they are quite dangerous, and prohibit all camping and mountain climbing and close all the overlooks and hiking trails. As I often tell patients...you have to weigh risk vs benefit. There are many more deaths from car accidents and plane crashes each year but we continue to ride in cars and fly in planes because the benefit in general is greater than the risk of harm. On the other hand, a prudent person would not undertake excessive risk such as riding with an intoxicated driver. At that point, the benefit of going somewhere by car is outweighed by the risk.
It is impossible to prevent all tragedies and it would be even more tragic to restrict personal freedoms even farther to try and do so.

To the doctor and team that worked so hard to save this young lady....I thank you and it humbles me to know there are good people in this world. You were all amazing. I was the one that handed u the towel so u could place under ur legs while doing CPR. I also agree with everything u said about the dangers and risks we take in life. God Bless u all....u were truly amazing that day!

To Cheryl Gilbert, Well said!

I also agree with Cheryl Gilbert. Very well put. My family and friends enjoy swimming in the Firehole each time we go to Yellowstone when the weather is good. We live 2.5 hrs away and go just to swim at times. We have never found a place like it anywhere around. But again swim at your own risk and use good judgement. Its unfortunate this young woman lost her life. It should make everyone realize how short life can be. Don't take anything for granted.

I was in the park that day as well. My children, along with my mother were on their way to the Firehole to swim, when we heard the sirens, and I knew something bad had happened. To everyone that had to see the tradegy, and to all that tried to save the young woman, I'm so sorry. I will concur that Yellowstone is a wilderness of which only 2% is developed, and it needs to stay that way. We are guests, and our limitations, should not result in the closure or development of an area just because of a horrible death. Enjoy the gift of the park, and don't try to limit it.

First , I want to thanks u all to be thoughtful for her, also thanks the doctor and nurses who try to save her life , thanks u all . Lin Ching-Ling is her chinese name , English name is Irene , such a beautiful name~~
I am a Taiwanes girl too , Irene and I didn't know each other in Taniwan , but both of us also apply for a summer job at Big Sky Resort in MT. We just met here for a month and we also work together , we got a lot of memories but suddenly that she is gone , I felt sadness and it almost dry my tears . She was very kind and lovely and she has a beautiful eyes and face. She has a lot of dreams and she wants to do a lot of things . she was just 22 year-old. I miss ur smile , I miss ur voice , I miss you , IRENE!! You'll always in my mind.

I had a very scary experience there a few days later, on Saturday, July 31, 2010. In fact, that's why I found this site. Because of what happened to me, I was googling to see if any incidents have happened there.

I was swimming with my 15-year-old son, who is a very strong expert swimmer. I am an average swimmer. Both of us are experienced mainly in swimming pools and know little about currents, undertows, etc. We had been having a fun time swimming in the cove that has a small cave-like overhang across the river from the road side. We enjoyed swimming back and forth to the cave. There was a definite current there, but not so strong that you can't overcome it.

My son went upstream to the upper cove where he had swam down a small waterfall that leads into the upper cove. He wanted me to enjoy it also, and many others - including several children under 10 - were also doing that.

We went to the waterfall, which is approx. 3 feet high. My son climbed out into the middle of the current at the top of the fall. But I am 53 and not so good at climbing across slippery rocks as a young person, so I decided to push off from the side instead. I was keeping my head above water as is advised, due to the potentially dangerous microorganisms in the water.

We started at the same time, but my son was swept quickly down the middle, where the current was strongest, and was soon so far ahead of me that he couldn't see me. I had tried to push out into the middle also, but was unable to. Even off to the side, the current was so strong that it instantly pulled me downstream and I was unable to reach the main current in the middle. It also dragged me entirely underwater. I fought to reach the surface and thought I had, gulping for air but finding that my head was still several feet underwater and I gulped water instead. I fought very, very hard to reach the surface for what seemed like a long time. I thought for sure I was going to die. Lots of other people were all around, but no one knew I was in trouble because I was not able to come to the surface to wave my arms or shout for help. And it's not like a swimming pool - the water is dark and you can't see people who are underwater. I think that this is probably the same thing that happened to the girl, why it took so long for anyone to help her.

But finally, I did fight my way to the surface and was so exhausted by the effort that only sheer desperation gave me the strength to to swim over to the side and hold on to some slippery rocks as the current continued trying to drag me away. I was surprised to find that after all that, I had come only a few feet downstream (about 10 ft., still in the upper cove) from the waterfall. Apparently the current off to the side where I was, held me under rather than sweeping me downstream as it did the people in the middle of the current.

I hauled myself up on the rocks to rest and get my strength back before continuing. My son found me there, having hiked back upstream for me after realizing that I hadn't come down the river with him. I lay on the rocks for at least half an hour recovering, during which time I watched a large number of people - including children - come down the falls without any problem. My guess is that the middle section of the waterfall is safer - there the current takes you downstream rather than holding you under.

After all that, I was afraid to get back out into the current, but now I was on the opposite side of the river and there was no other way to get out and back to the road. So I got my courage up and pushed off again. Again, I was dragged under at first but this time only for a very short time. As soon as I began swimming forward, I was fine. The very strong current took me downstream fast, through the narrow part of the canyon and into the lower cove where the little cave is, to where the current isn't so strong. It was a great ride.

I think part of the problem was that I was trying to swim with my head out of the water, and thus was trying to tread water at first, before swimming forward. My son said later that he also noticed that it was impossible to tread water where the current was strong, that it dragged you under instead. But if you swim forwards instead, then you can keep your head out of the water.

Also, on the hike back up to where I was, my son had overheard a ranger talking to some people on the bank. She said that there was an underwater tunnel there that creates a strong undertow and sometimes drags people into it, but that there had been "only" one or two actual drownings there. She didn't mention this drowning which had occurred only a few days earlier.

One thing that puzzles me is that if my son understood the ranger correctly, the place where I was dragged down by an undertow (right below the waterfall) is upstream from where the tunnel is (in the narrow part between the two coves, which I had later come down without any problem.) So maybe he was wrong about where the underwater tunnel is, or maybe I was caught by a different undertow.

Has anyone else heard about this underwater tunnel? Can anyone confirm where it is? Is that where the girl drowned? Someone above said it was in the middle cove, but we only saw two coves: the lower one with the little cave, and the upper one with the little waterfall. But we did see another swimming area just downstream, where the water spread out wide and shallow with little current and there were lots of families with toddlers. So would the cove with the cave be considered the middle cove, and is that where the girl drowned? Or is there yet another cove above the little waterfall, and we just didn't go that far upstream? - in which case, the waterfall cove would be the middle one and she drowned in the same place where I almost did.

I hope someone can tell me the answers, because I am haunted by wondering if she was caught by the same undertow that almost got me.

Although, if it is true that she didn't know how to swim, then it would be very easy to drown anywhere in either of those two coves, with their very strong currents.

In any case, there should be signs posted warning of the dangerous undertows. You can see currents, but people used to swimming pools have no idea how to tell whether undertows are present or where they might be. Although I am a reasonably competent swimmer, I realize my limitations and would never have taken that risk if I had known there were undertows.

I am so terribly sorry about Lin Ching-Ling. I really relate to what happened to her.

We have swam in the firehole several times as well as tube floated/swam several rivers around MT. My first experience was very much like urs. My friend as well. I am a very strong swimmer but had no idea that if u didn't get away from the rocks after jumping into the rapids it would "pull u under". I think what happens is the water is flowing so fast/strong on the surface due to the depth that if u don't get out of the gushing rapids...the current pushes a person down. Also when it hits the rocks at a fast speed...as some days its stronger than others....it churns. The water has to go some where....so it goes in all directions off the rocks...especially at the bottom of the upper rapids when it makes the bend and starts to flow toward the narrow passage at the start of the middle cove. I also heard there was an underwater cave in the middle cove. One of my coworkers was there when people were scuba diving it. I didn't know that until about a week ago. And the upper part is where the rapids start and then middle with cave and lower shallow part down below as u described. From my understanding and recollection, the girl did not know how to swim. One of the boys from big sky that was jumping off the high rocks on the left of the middle cove saw her floating under the water across the middle cove. He thought it was someone swimming under water....as some people snorkle there and u can't tell at times....I thought one guy was drowning and went to pull him out and he was snorkleing. When the boy got down off the rocks and went to the side of the lower end and discovered it was his coworker....he said he didn't know it was her and that she did NOT know how to swim.

Thank you so much for your reply, anonymous! You have answered my questions and given me some peace of mind, as well as some VERY valuable information about the undertows and currents. I hope that a lot of people will read these messages so that your information can help to keep others safe. (Which is one reason why I wrote such a long message with so much detail.)

It sounds like Lin probably didn't die from an undertow, but simply because of not knowing how to swim. She must have fallen in by accident, either from the shore or by slipping into deep water while wading on slippery rocks in shallow water. It's just heartbreaking.

As Cheryl Gilbert said above, this is the third drowning at the Firehole River swimming area.

The first was in 1975. The only info I could find about it was in the book "Death In Yellowstone," by Lee H. Whittlesey. He says, "James M. Thompson, 17, of Bozeman, Montana, drowned in it on the evening of August 9, 1975, while swimming with a friend. Thompson was floating in rapids, went down, and failed to come up." This does sound like it may have been due to an undertow, and possibly in the same place where I got into trouble (i.e. "in rapids".)

The second was in 2003. According to a Yellowstone NP press release: "Yellowstone National Park officials report that a 15-year-old girl drowned while swimming at a popular swimming area on the Firehole Canyon Drive, located about two miles south of Madison Junction. The incident occurred around 5:00 pm, Wednesday, August 06, 2003.

Lisbeth Clair Skollingsberg of Boise, Idaho, was visiting the park with her mother, two brothers, and friends. She and one of the brothers were swimming in a channel that runs through a gorge that empties into a swimming hole on the river. The brother stated that Lisbeth pinched her nose and ducked under the water but failed to resurface. The family looked for her for approximately ten minutes then summoned help from other visitors swimming in the area. After searching another 10 minutes, a park visitor saw her legs sticking out of an overhanging ledge under the water. Park visitors immediately removed Lisbeth from the water and started CPR; other visitors reported the incident by calling 911 on their cell phones.

Park staff immediately responded to the scene and continued CPR, as well as advance life support procedures. They continued their efforts until 6:30 pm when Lisbeth was declared dead at the scene. She was not wearing a life preserver, as the National Park Service strongly recommends."

Lisbeth's drowning sounds like it may have been caused by being dragged partially into the underwater cave. I'm thinking that perhaps swimming just on the surface (as my son and I did without any problems at that specific place) in this middle cove might be safer than diving deep, unless you have scuba equipment.

BTW, I never saw anyone wearing life preservers. I can see why people who know how to swim wouldn't think them necessary there - it certainly never occurred to me to wear one at the time. But a life vest might make all the difference with the undertows. I'm going to wear one if I ever swim there again, I don't care how silly I look!

Also BTW, there were two drownings in the other Yellowstone swimming hole, at Boiling River (as of 1995, when the "Death in Yellowstone" book was written; and I didn't find any more recent incidents online.) That really surprised me, as the water there is very shallow (rarely over knee-deep when I was there last week in early August) although there is a strong current. However, both of those drownings occurred at night and at times of unusually high water (Feb. and May.) That area is now closed to swimming at such times.

If safety is your concern or you are not a strong swimmer, I would recommend the Boiling River swimming hole instead of the Firehole River one. It is also much warmer and more comfortable, like a spa. (In fact, most people don't want to get too close to where the hot water flows into the cold river.)

But I have to admit that Firehole River is more thrilling, and deep enough for real swimming, rather than just wading or sitting and relaxing in the water. Just read all the comments on this thread and be very careful if you go there!

I hope this helps to keep people safe!

There was a very nice young lady from Taiwan who worked at Glacier Park last summer. Her American name was also Irene but I don't know her true name. I saw this comment and my heart sank.

I m so shocked that the news in tw didn't even report this accident. The young and brilliant lady died in foreign country..rest in peace.

I wasn't there nore have i met anyone in her family but i give my best wishes ans condolances to her family just becase i'm a teen dosn't mean i cant be poliht but i do have a question wouldn't the people in her party have noticed her gone and how did she slip in the first place. thirdly it takes at least two hours for the body to lose all of the oxogen and make us sink but it was only five mins so shuoldn't she have floated?

In response to the question of whether there is a tunnel or not, I have used scuba in that swimming hole, including up underneath the rapids at the beginning of the swimming hole many times. There is not a tunnel. There is however, a narrow channel that drops over 2 different ledges until you reach the bottom at about 30 feet. The bottom is roughly straight out from the cave, and has a current that moves in a circle. The water then pushes up and spreads out into the more calm area at the bottom end of the swimming hole. At different times of the year, the current acts very different depending the volume of water comming down the river. On a normal year, the water flow is to high and fast to swim much before July 4. There is a small cave in the side of the bottom hole, but it doesn't effect the current. Usually when a person jumps out into the rapids, they will go under water for a few seconds then float to the surface for the rest of the ride. If we are planning a trip there, we throw in some life jackets so we don't have to worry about the little ones or those who might not be comfortable in the currents. It is a great place, and our family has spent many enjoyable hours there over the past 50 years. We still enjoy it with our grand children and now great grand child.

I have been swimming at the firehole swimming hole with my family for many years, since my kids were very young. We consider it the highlight of our trip whenever we go to the park. But I have always made my kids and have myself worn a lifejacket when in the river for all of the above mentioned reasons, eg current, darkness of the water, etc. I told a good friend about the swimming hole and she went up there yesterday, 7/8, with her kids to swim only to find out the it was roped off and closed. I agree that people have to be responsible, everythings can't be made safe. I hope that Yellowstone officials reconsider and re-open the swimming area.

The park keeps the swimming area closed until the flow rate is below 300 cfs for 3 consecutive days. You can watch it online just google waterdata firehole river near west yellowstone. They keep it closed until then for the safety of people who may not have enough training or experience to handle more difficult water conditions.

there is a "tunnel". its very short maybe 1-2 feet. 25-30 inches wide im guessing. i went through it. its about 15-20 feet down from the highest part where the idiots jump from and get fined $200. 100 for climbing, 100 for jumping. i have also reached the bottom and stood there for 5 seconds! the bottom is 33 feet i was told by a diver.