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UPDATE: How the three hikers at Vernal Fall in Yosemite tumbled to their deaths

July 22, 2011

Three visitors are presumed dead after plunging over Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park Tuesday afternoon at approximately 1:30 p.m, bringing the total of water-related deaths to six this year.

Hormiz David, a 22-year-old-male from Manteca, Ninos Yacoub, a 27-year-old-male from Turlock and Ramina Badal, a 21-year-old-female from Modesto, came to the park for a day trip with a group of family and friends.

Park spokesman Scott Gediman told the MT Thursday that it was his understanding that Badel bypassed the metal guardrail near the edge of the falls, went into the water, and was swept rapidly toward the falls by the strong current. One of the men noted above then went in after her to try to save her and the second man also attempted a rescue. All three were swept over the falls almost immediately. Their bodies have not yet been recovered.

The group was witnessed 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 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.

“It was like a chain reaction,” Gediman said. “Once they went in, there was nothing that could be done. The current is just too strong.”

He said that the deaths of the three young people bring the total number of water-related deaths in the park to six since the beginning of the year; many of them due at least in part to the extremely high water levels and strong currents produced by such high water. Two hikers drowned in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on June 29 as they attempted to cross a wooden bridge that was covered by water and a hiker slipped and fell into the Merced River on the Mist Trail on May 13.

Another man disappeared from the trail above Upper Yosemite Falls on June 10 and is still missing, but Gediman said the man is not included in the number of water-related deaths, since it is not yet known what happened to him.

“I cannot emphasize enough how dangerous the water is right now,” he said. “The water is very swift and it is very cold. When things happen, they happen very fast. And it’s not over yet. We still have another month or more before it calms down, due to the big snowpack still in the backcountry.”

He said witnesses who saw the accident on Tuesday reported other visitors also bypassing the guardrail, including, to the horror of the watching visitors, a man holding his young daughter by the hand and dangling her on the other side of the guardrail above the water while asking his 14-year-old son to take photos of her.

The park is still seeing the effects of a huge winter snowpack — more than 300 percent of normal — and a cool spring and summer. The Merced River, which feeds the 317-foot high Vernal Fall that the three individuals plunged over Tuesday, is still running at spring conditions resulting in a swift, dangerous current. The hike up the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall is one of the most popular hikes in the park, with upwards of 1,500 people per day ascending the trail to the top of Vernal Fall.

Over the years, there have been several cases of visitors going over Vernal Fall, as well as other waterfalls, such as Upper Yosemite Falls, Gediman said. Signs and guardrails are located at some of the most popular sites, like Vernal Fall, but they can easily be bypassed if the visitor is determined to do so.

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