Updated: Yosemite National Park Rangers Investigating Reports Of Visitors Swept Over Vernal Fall

Vernal Fall can be both mesmerizing and deadly. It is a short hike from the bustling Yosemite Valley via the Mist Trail. Bottom photo shows the view from the brink of the waterfall. Photos by QT Luong, www.terragalleria.com/parks , used with permission.

Editor's note: This update identifies the missing individuals and provides additional details on how they entered the river.

Yosemite National Park officials were presuming Wednesday that three visitors who were swept over Vernal Fall were killed in the incident, though a search continued for their remains.

The three were identified as Hormiz David, 22, of Modesto, California; Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock, California,; and Ramina Badal, 21, also of Modesto. The three had come to the park for a day trip with a group of family and friends.

According to a park release, the two men and their female companion were seen entering the water above Vernal Fall, approximately 25 feet from the precipice.

"Witnesses reported to park officials that several people urged the group members to step back from the river, since it was flowing swiftly and extremely cold," the release said. "The area is signed as a dangerous area, and the group had crossed a metal guardrail placed there to keep visitors away from the dangerous fast-moving water."

Runoff in Yosemite this summer has been higher than usual due to a greater-than-normal snowpack. That makes for spectacular waterfalls, but also creates more dangerous conditions for visitors who stray too near streams.

The Mist Trail is among the most popular in the Yosemite Valley, leading up from the Happy Isles area past Vernal Fall and up to the brink of the Nevada Fall, where it connects with other trails leading to Half Dome and into the Little Yosemite Valley.

From Happy Isles to Nevada Fall the trail climbs about 2,000 feet on a trail that in places follows rock steps and steel ladders. Along the way it parallels the Merced River, and in places hikers can walk over to pools formed by the river as well as precipitous ledges the river catapults off.

Each day in summer about 1,500 people hike the trail, at least to the top of Vernal Fall, according to park officials. While the Park Service has placed guardrails in spots to keep hikers from getting too near the river and its falls, many people climb over or around them.

There have been six water-related deaths in Yosemite this year, including this incident, park officials reported. Two hikers drowned in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on June 29, and a hiker slipped and fell into the Merced River on the Mist Trail on May 13.

The Mist Trail had been closed since the incident to facilitate search and rescue operations, though it was reopened later Wednesday. Rangers were continuing search efforts throughout the day, primarily by combing each side of the Merced River looking for the
victims.

The park's search-and-rescue history is rife with incidents involving waterfalls. Charles "Butch" Farabee, Jr., a former park ranger, noted that in Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite, which he wrote with Michael Ghiglieri.

...it is immediately above the Valley's profligate array of gigantic waterfalls that all too many of Nature's lovers have communed too closely. Even today these scenic wonders still seem deceptive in size. So much so that some visitors who make the arduous effort to hike to the tops of these falls arrive there only to fail to comprehend their power. A few of their tragic stories defy belief. Unfortunately, all too many are real.

Comments

This link takes you to more current reports, including the names of the missing who were seen to fall off the falls.
http://www.ksee24.com/home/Hikers-Presumed-Dead-After-Plunge-Over-Yosemite-Waterfall-125902308.html

Was the last photo taken beyond the guardrail?

Was the last photo taken beyond the guardrail?
It looks like someone might have extended a camera beyond the guardrail. One wouldn't need to step over the rail to get that kind of photo.

I have seen folks in that Emerald Pool area, which is clearly marked with signs, every time we have hiked the Mist Trail up to Nevada Falls. I purchased "Off The Wall" several years ago on our first trip to Yosemite and was amazed at how many people have gotten caught in the current and swept to their deaths! A momentary lapse in judgment can reap severe consequences.

I have seen folks in that Emerald Pool area, which is clearly marked with signs, every time we have hiked the Mist Trail up to Nevada Falls. I purchased "Off The Wall" several years ago on our first trip to Yosemite and was amazed at how many people have gotten caught in the current and swept to their deaths! A momentary lapse in judgment can reap severe consequences.

In light of the recent tragedies in three of the big national parks as well as many others over the years, I propose that the Park Service engage in the following low-cost safety campaign:

1. For the web site of each unit, there should be a button labeled Safety. When someone clicks on it, he or she goes to another page concerning:
a. Animals in that unit
b. Conduct on or near water
c. Hypothermia/hyperthermia/dehydration, etc.
d. Trail closures
e. Climbing
f. Dangers unique to that unit (geothermal features in Yellowstone, active volcanoes in Hawaii, etc.)
g. Other things that other people will think of.
2. Safety brochures should be required in every room in every lodge and campground, and be handed out by the rangers that greet the public at entrances
I know that this seems heavy-handed but sometimes you need the two by four to whack the mule to get his attention. This effort should continue forever. A bear safety effort in Yosemite worked well around the year 2000.

I'm not sure why you would think you would need to do more than was already done. This is a tragic event.....but they climbed OVER the guardrail. Surely the presence of a guardrail is a clear indicator to stay out of an area?

Go over the guardrail, exponetially increase the odds of losing your life.
While I am sorry for the loss, it is my sincere hope that park visitors think before acting. There are too many lost lives due to lack of caution and common sense.


The Final Question considering the reality of tight federal budgets, Is
"How Much Do You Spend to Save People from Themselves ?"
There are popular visitor locations, however, where additional safety
barriers are needed at little additional cost such as at Crater Lake NP, North Junction,
needs large boulders near/along viewpoints to prevent vehicles from rolling over caldera edge;
also, at Sinnott Memorial Overlook Trail where only a low rock wall separates visitors of all ages
from the caldera edge and almost "certain death" !

Give this a read:
Mountains Without Handrails - Joesph Sax

I keep seeing this reported on the national news shows, but no one reports that the people climbed over the handrail, ignored the warning signs, or the warnings of others. The only thing they say is that the people wanted to dip their toes in the water and got washed over. I wish the news chanels would report it accurately so that others may learn that the rails and warnings are there for a reason.

I have hiked the mist trail many times. The railing along the top of Vernal is maintained well. Danger Signs are clearly posted not to go beyond the rail. They are also posted along the Merced River after you reach the top of Vernal. It is very clearly posted that the water is dangerous and that boulders sometimes dislodge as a result of high moving currents. This is such a tragedy. Even after other hikers were yelling at these three to get back on the safe side, they still would not listen. So so sad....

More details are emerging from witnesses.

Witnesses are saying that the people who went over weren't simply hanging on to the railing from the river, but apparently were wading knee deep in the Merced River trying to reach a rock in the middle for a picture.

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2011/0721/Yosemite-waterfall-accident-a-cautionary-tale-for-Yosemite-visitors

i am sick to my stomach to hear of this tragic news. i lost my brother there 40 years ago on july 20th on a teen tour. at that time, there were no guard rails, and people went into the water to cool off. good luck finding these peoples remains. my brother was never found after a 2 year search. my thoughts are with these peoples families. it's hard enough to deal with death, but to never have closer is even harder.

I was with your brother on that teen tour and vividly remember what happened. I think of him often and hope that no one else has to experience what your family has.

My Son & daughter-in-law both worked in Yellowstone Nat'l Park for several years. My Son has said time and again how amazed he is at peoples stupidity when using poor judgement in the Park. He says it's as if the leave all good judgement at home!! One visitor asked my Son where they store the wildlife at nite & if they are feed before release in the morning. I feel terrible that these tragedies happen but for goodness sake a strong dose of common sense goes a long way towards a safe vacation!!!