July 21st, 2011
02:51 PM ET

Yosemite tragedy underscores dangers of deceptive rivers

The Merced River's unusual force for this time of year made wading near a waterfall particularly deadly for three Yosemite visitors.

Three hikers are presumed dead after being swept over Vernal Fall, a 317-foot waterfall at Yosemite National Park, on Tuesday, according to a National Park Service news release.

Witnesses said the visitors climbed over a guardrail to put their feet in the water about 25 feet from the waterfall's edge. The hikers have been identified as Ramina Badal, 21, and Hormiz David, 22, both of Modesto, California; and Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock, California.

Park officials announced Wednesday that they were presuming the visitors to be dead and will intensify search efforts as soon as the  river reaches a level low enough to look for bodies.

The Mist Trail, where the visitors were hiking, sees about 1,500 guests each day, according to the Park Service. In May, another hiker slipped from the popular trail into the Merced and drowned. Counting Tuesday's accident, there have been six water-related deaths at Yosemite this year.

Western rivers have been at record levels this summer due to large snow packs and a cool spring.

At this point in the year, the Merced would typically be at about a “trickle” at Vernal Fall, said Dave Steindorf, California stewardship director for American Whitewater. Instead, the water is still gushing at levels that are rarely seen past June. Steindorf said this is great news for experienced paddlers but can create especially dangerous situations for hikers, bathers and waders who are less familiar with river hazards.

“Walking out into a river, if you’re up to your knees, that’s about as far as you can go with being able to maintain your footing, even with just moderate force,” Steindorf said.

Steindorf pointed to U.S. Geological Survey data that say the historic median level for the Merced just below Vernal Fall is 298 cubic feet per second. Right now, it’s at 1300 CFS. That the Vernal Fall races over a solid piece of slick granite compounds the area’s danger, he said.

“When you get this late in the season and people are used to those rivers being a trickle, they don’t understand how powerful they can be,” Steindorf said. “People wouldn’t consider walking out into a blizzard without any clothes on, but unfortunately, people will go into a river that’s higher than normal and not have life jackets or really the ability or the skill to avoid (accidents).”

No matter how forceful or gentle the flow of the Merced, Steindorf said, he would never recommend entering a river above Vernal Fall.

“Getting in any river above a significant hazard. You have to exercise even more caution, and the right answer is that you shouldn’t get in the water,” he said. “One of the big messages here is (to) provide some education on what is safe.”

Yosemite places guardrails and multilingual signs in places that are hazardous, but deciding to heed those warnings is a decision left up to individual visitors, Kari Cobb, a Yosemite Park ranger, said Wednesday.

"Visitors that want to go around guardrails ... it's up to them," Cobb said. "It's something that does happen, and it's completely up to the visitor to know what safety concerns are around and take responsibility for their own actions.”

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Filed under: California • Hikers • Nature • Travel • U.S. • Uncategorized
soundoff (170 Responses)
  1. Unluckyoblix

    Everyone should be careful of rivers and falls. This news reminds me of another incident in India just a week ago where a family of 5 were swept away by rising water to a fall just like this. Someone posted a video of that happening in youtube. Search for "Family drowns waterfall Patalpani Indore". We should never take a river lightly, especially near a fall...

    July 21, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. mizh

    That's right. Barriers are put up for a reason. Tragic, but preventable...

    July 21, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. kjc

    we should also learn to follow the warning signs and not climb over railings and fences that are there to keep us from falling,,stupid is as stupid does....too bad....I feel bad for their families left behind

    July 21, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. heliocracy

    Please...the only thing this "tragedy" underscores is that many people are too stupid to keep themselves alive.

    July 21, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rest in Peace, Caylee

    I've been to Yosemite many times and CNN's headline is a bit misleading. This area of the Merced River is NOT deceptive, unless you're blind. This time of year, after all the rains, the water is visibly flowing fast and furious! Those 3 dead tourists crossed a metal barricade and ignored numerous warning signs, including one that basically says "If you cross this fence, you will go over the waterfall and you will die." Sadly, folks try to get "a better picture" and cross over all the time, wade across the water and stand on some rocks in the middle of the raging stream. It's S T U P I D. Let this tragedy be a warning to other Yosemite tourists. OBEY THE SIGNS.

    July 21, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe

      yeah and if I recall, the sign says that after you die, they will charge your family for the recovery of your body...it was enough to make me back away.

      July 21, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Aj

    HELLO , 300 foot drop... can anyone say BRIAN FART

    July 21, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • geoff

      Who's Brian?

      July 22, 2011 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
    • joey

      life of brian

      July 22, 2011 at 5:21 am | Report abuse |
  7. txrj

    Ninos? What exactly is that? I assume people? oh, sorry, I guess we live in the US of what?

    July 21, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billy Bob

      That's the guy's name, jerk. But I guess there's no doubt that YOU are an American, since you didn't read carefully and like to assume that somebody is a foreigner if they have a weird name.

      July 22, 2011 at 12:00 am | Report abuse |
    • txrj

      My apologies. I see that now. I retract my comment!

      July 22, 2011 at 12:12 am | Report abuse |
    • txrj

      Actually, I am not a jerk, but I do agree with Coach Lew. Maybe we should make HUGE signs in every language for all those ignorant people that have no common sense?

      July 22, 2011 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
    • James in Arizona

      I hate that people from different countries think all of us Americans are the same. I do not rejoice in these poor young people falling and being crushed against the rocks. It is terrible. I even feel for those people who bore witness to the tragedy. I'm sure they are going to think about that moment the rest of their lives. Please understand not all of us Americans are illiterate, rude, crass, heartless people. Don't generalize an entire country. There are good people everywhere in this world.

      July 22, 2011 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
  8. CNN wire

    Signs, guard rails, rope, just what else will be asked for in order to protect people from themselves? Fact is we all take risk from time to time, we at times are successfull, other times we are just not so lucky! whatever the out come of our action, we just have to live with, or in cases like this, die with it...

    July 21, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. PPeter

    Maybe when it is a trickle they can install something to catch people who fall in the water? Or at least ropes people can throw out?

    July 21, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Marine5484

    I feel for the family but, the victims.....not so much. The barriers are there for a reason. And they will undoubtedly receive the Darwin award.

    July 21, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dwalker28

    I have probably spent 30 of my 36 summers on earth in Yosemite, living and working there. Even when Vernal Falls is a "Trickle" it is still a very strong waterfall. I have seen many visitors do exactly what these poor folks did, and I just dont understand why they risk their lives the way they do, it must simply be ignorance. In fact one summer me and a friend had to help a French tourist from drowning in the pool just up from Vernal Falls...again a guy who just didnt heed warning signs. THEY ARE THERE FOR A REASON!!!
    That water is ice cold and rips the air from your lungs and those rocks are about as slick as ice....its a bad bad situation.

    OH AND FOR THE PERSON THAT POSTED THEY SHOULD "PUT UP A GATE OR INSTALL ROPES"... Please visit Yosemite and see the NATURAL beauty it is, we dont need to obstruct or block the beauty of nature. No we should learn to respect it.... why should nature suffer because humans are ignorant?

    July 22, 2011 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Roger james

      What is the area like there? Describe please?

      July 22, 2011 at 12:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Wait, did you actually see tourists wade out to that same spot 25 feet above the waterfall????

      I've seen people swim in the emerald pool, but what these kids tried to do was just insane in my eyes.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:13 am | Report abuse |
  12. Coach Lew

    That is too bad. Stupidity can cost you your life in any situation. Just from reading their names they must have a Muslim background so maybe they went to see Allah for a reason.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
    • ASSYRIANCHRISTIAN

      Before you "label and JUDGE" people do your research kid....They were of ASSYRIAN descent (Google it), involved in their church youth group which was CHRISTIAN...I'll keep you and all of the other HEARTLESS "AMERICANS" in my prayers and ask GOD to instill LOVE into your heart.

      July 22, 2011 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
    • txrj

      heartless after 911 to a certain group. Thanks for your support ASSYRIANCHRISTIAN. I think your first 3 letters tells me a whole lot about you. You are just an infidel and the bomb one day will not keep you alive and blow away the rest of us away. It will be for all of us. Wake up.

      July 22, 2011 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jim

    Ah, the only part of natural selection we will never beat, stupidity.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:16 am | Report abuse |
  14. FU

    Actually, it just shows nature's awesome way of weeding out the idiots...

    July 22, 2011 at 12:21 am | Report abuse |
  15. edvhou812

    Anybody that goes into any river at Yosemite either wasn't listening or wasn't thinking. Those falls do come out of nothing, and five minutes of reading on the internet will bring one to warnings about the rivers and falls.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
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