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. Mmmmm

    Well...after thinkin', is it possible to place a metal safety rope across the river for accidental falls apparently fence or sign isn't enough and it gives the victim a chance...

    July 21, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • pjay

      Come on. We have to stop making allowances - such as the one you suggest - for people who are determined to do things that they have clearly been told they should not do. Putting up this rope as you said is tantamount to sending a message that people CAN push just a little further, and maybe go out on the river for a photo op because hey, there's a rope to catch us!

      No, it's time to hold people to task for being fools; we cannot make the world fool-proof, and it's folly to pursue that as a goal. Someone will always be a greater fool. Besides, stupidity should come with a cost, or else stupidity will never be discouraged and will instead continue to grow. These people had fair warning, and they did something unwise anyway. (Oh, and I'd like to know why their God didn't save them. I guess "he needed three more angels in heaven," right?)

      July 21, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lori R

      I would think a cable type rope across the river would decapitate them before they hit the falls. The river is moving so fast, they have no chance period.

      July 21, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda W.

      what they should do is make it impossible to climb over the railing. Hawaii has a waterfall attracting tourists from all over the world. Five people have died in the last thirty years and they're already talking about closing it down. How many people have to die as the result of unsafe tourist areas? The trails and hiking areas provided for normal visitors do not create a safe environment by having a guard rail... its like an amusement park ride without a seat belt. If you hold on tight enough; you shouldnt fall out.. maybe the government should spend money at these parks and make them safer with rangers at these dangerous areas or more infrastructure to create a safe environment instead of taking dollars away from them. i dont see anyone wanting to waddle in the waters at niagara falls..

      July 21, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • frank

      they shouldn't do anything. a sign and a rope is plenty enough. it's natural selection. weave out the stupid and keep the intelligent. it's life. deal with it.

      July 21, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas

      Yep... Signs and Guard rails should be more than enough. If you choose to go past them, it's nobody's fault but your own. Why should the parks have to spend more money to protect people from themselves?

      July 21, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • cregg

      This is the same type mentality that says "guns Kill people" so no one should have them. Ok.. lets take this thought out a little further. People are killed by cars. Lets make cars TOTALLY safe.. give people a chance.. and not give them keys. THAT is the only way to make them totally safe. Ugh... people amaze me. Be responsible for your own actions. And when those choices result in your death by stupidity..............darwin wins.

      July 21, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • John McClane

      Linda, they should make it impossible for people like you to breed. Life is a serious business. People like you, and these three dead ones, we don't need. You are making life worse for those of us who are not idiots.

      July 21, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Apostrophes R Us

      No rope needed. This problem is self-correcting. The Darwin Principle ensured that these individuals did not procreate and pass along their abject stupidity. Check out the youtube videos of Vernal Fall and tell me anyone who goes over that rail next to a 317 foot cliff with swift water hurtling toward it is not an utter fool.

      July 21, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • cregg

      I remember being at Niagara, going across the small bridge upstream of the US falls, onto the island between US and Canadian falls. And being FURIOUS and yelling at her when she wanted to get a rock or reach down into the rivers edge.. being maybe (what I remember) 150 to 200 ft upstream. I was FURIOUS with her for being that stupid. HUGE fight. I work in engineering, so we are CONSTANTLY having to upgrade safeties and methods.. but they just create better idiots. People are responsible for their actions. And its NOT up to everyone else to make sure of their safety.

      July 21, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • cregg

      LOL.. shoulda reread after retyping some things. My WIFE went to waters edge...

      July 21, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian Dodge

      Fences and other barriers present an attraction to boneheads who think "THEY can't tell ME what to do", and increase the accident rate. An easily crossed railing doesn't present a challenge to boneheads, and they are less likely to get themselves in trouble – but nothing is foolproof. (As these fools demonstrated.)

      July 21, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • j

      "they are thinking of closing the falls down" (in Hawaii). How do you do that, is there a big water faucet up stream they can turn off? A better solution would be for parents to teach their kids not to do stupid stuff, so that when they grow up (assuming they survived childhood) they would be smarter. But don't get me started on parents and teaching their kids........

      July 21, 2011 at 11:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      A metal rope or something else from one bank to the other would trap branches, trees, etc., which would rip the rope down from the force of the current against them. The trees would also entrap people's legs, etc., while the people were held underwater. People would try to cross the river using the ropes, and would probably be tempted to climb out onto the trees, too. Unfortunately, it's really just up to people to take normal precautions.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Elle

      I wish people would stop involing the name and work of Charles Darwin to support their owb lack of compassion for others. You have no understanding of natural selection at all beyond a catch-phrase or two, which you totally misuse and misapply.

      July 22, 2011 at 4:44 am | Report abuse |
  2. joexiver

    Prayers go out to family of all three victims. Please obey all warning signs! They are there for a reason. God bless.

    July 21, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • lol

      Talking to your imaginary friend will accomplish nothing.

      July 21, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Apostrophes R Us

      Uh, lol, what makes you think the victims' families are imaginary? He said prayers go out to the families, not to God.

      July 21, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. jane

    I don't know what it is with this millenial generation that seems to think the rules apply to everyone but them. Every single day I read about them dying or suffering significant injury, or ending up in an Iranian prison as a result of such actions. Geesh!

    July 21, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Really? Only people from that generation die each day, and Americans are jailed in Iran daily? We must read different papers.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
  4. John Schwendler

    The river flow is not deceptive. The three Darwin Award candidates made a bad choice. Just what is it with people today, and railings? Falling into rivers, out of baseball seats?? I wouldn't waste a govt. dime looking for their remains, until the next of kin pony up the funds, like about $5k apiece for starters. We have Darwin candidates at the Grand Canyon every year. Always seems to be a couple dozen people throughout the year who want to risk their lives for an alleged better view. Hint: it's about a mile down, and you're gonna hate the trip. By the way, if you want to see what is down there, walk on down, or ride a mule. I have no sympathy for the stupid.

    July 21, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda W.


      July 21, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. James M

    I would like to see on a map, specifically where the victims first entered the river. We keep seeing photos and videos of the intense rapids right by the falls, but that's not where the victims first lost control. I also want people to acknowledge how common it is to get in that water, slightly upstream of the falls. And I wish that more people could see images of the water upstream so that they can understand how inviting it looks, and how deceptively calm it can be. You don't need a 300 foot waterfall to get in trouble in this kind of water. Lots of people die who start out in calm water that's just barely upstream from the rapids where they drown, or have their boats crushed.

    July 21, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • cja

      Normally you'd be right. The even call it "Emerald Pool" and I've waked across it. But NOW the river is up into the trees and there is no pool

      July 21, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • CW

      The witnesses did all say that they crossed over the guardrail, ignoring the signs, and made their way on to an "island" in the water. It was very fast moving water, 25 feet from the edge of the waterfall. It's pretty obvious that it was a poor decision on their part.

      July 21, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Here you go. He tells you the place where the tourists crossed the fence (right near the prominent island things), and he also shows the emerald pool where people swim. Even that is raging.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Sorry, my mistake. THIS is the video that highlights where they walked out.


      July 24, 2011 at 3:22 am | Report abuse |
  6. Sgt. Marty U.S.M.C

    Or your thnorkel can get plugged.

    July 21, 2011 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Michael M

    These people deserve no sympathy. They were stupid and got what they deserved.

    July 21, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda W.

      Michael... we all make stupid decisions. Fortunately most of the stupid decisions we make, we have the ability to learn from them and try to prove to do otherwise in the future as a result of what you learned. Unfortunately, these kids do not get a chance to change their actions in the future. I think that saying they got what they deserved is cold hearted and cruel to say. Just because you make a poor choice does not mean you deserve to die. Shame on you.

      July 21, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • frank

      linda, it's life. no one can do everything to protect the daring and the stupid to kill themselves.
      it is the natural selection.

      the reason why people are getting stupider and disconnect from a warning sign to reality, is because we do too much to prevent bad things from happening. many people don't really see the real danger in things, until they experience it.

      it's how a kid learn to not touch a hot pot, by touching it and feel it for themselves.

      it's life. deal with it.

      July 21, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • John McClane

      Llinda, stupid people make stupid mistakes. Stupid people say things like, "everyone makes stupid mistakes", because stupid people think they are like everyone else. Not everyone makes stupid mistakes.

      July 21, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • dflye

      Darwinism: It isn't just a suggestion, it is a law!

      July 21, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Lori R

    We just finished a wonderful vacation at Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Badlands National Parks. We saw in just our short time: A man and a woman RUNNING in a field trying to touch bison. A woman with TWO SMALL children walk OFF the boardwalk at the hot springs, pick something up and throw it into another hot spring. A man walking out in Hayden Valley to the Canyon Wolf Pack rendezvous point. And countless others trying to get closer to 'that' grizzly with her cubs. When I yelled at the lady NOT to get off the boardwalk and throw things in to the springs, she gave me a half hearted "HUH?" and kept walking. There are signs posted EVERYWHERE not to leave the boardwalks OR throw things in the springs. Bottom line is this: People choose to ignore the safety signs. No one is to blame but themselves. I'm sorry to hear these young people have perished, but ultimately it was their foolishness that killed them. Sadly, next year it will be more of the same.

    July 21, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. shuggo

    I went into an Oregon river last summer and it was really more powerful than I realized. I felt like an idiot. Made it back to shore, but I won't make that mistake again. Unfortunately their's was a fatal error.

    July 21, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      Glad you make it back out. You're right; the currents beneath the surface are a lot stronger than they seem.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:22 am | Report abuse |
  10. Assyrian Prayers

    Alaha Parej brashay. Alahah eleh bish gorah min kul. God Bless.

    July 21, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |


      July 22, 2011 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  11. Fillitin

    Natural Selection at its best.

    July 21, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • John McClane

      The problem is that some things will change to punish everyone for the stupidity of someone else.

      I'm tired of paying for the stupid mistakes of others.

      July 21, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. jimzcarz

    They should have a safety line across the front off all waterfalls. Like a cable at water height.Give someone one last chance to grab on.
    Then again people would see that as an invitation. I'll shut-up now...

    July 21, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • cregg

      "hey yall.. watch me walk this tight rope..........whoops.. WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.. ". bad idea. lol

      July 21, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • j

      If there were a cable or other device at the top of the falls, how long could someone hold onto it in the raging river before they fell anyway? And what if the river were 300% of normal, would the cable be underwater? If the cable were set at a height for 300% what if the river slowed to only 200%, the poor swimmer would not be able to reach it. And so on and so on. There are many reasons why a cable or other device would not even be feasible, let alone desirable. Being stupid should hurt, sometimes a lot even. There is nothing you can do to prevent the occasional freak accident but being smart enough to obey the warning signs should be a start.

      July 21, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rob

      A person's weight on the cable would stretch it enough to pull them underwater, if it's close enough to the surface for them to grab. That's why water rescues aren't normally done with a line stretched across the river.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Max

      Perfect idea. Decapitate them so they don't feel the pain of being crushed against the rocks below.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Takara

    People need to use some common sense. There shouldn't be guardrails there anyways. They should see that there is fast water and not attempt it. Darwin award prevails again, in spite of it all.

    July 21, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. John McClane

    Actually they highlight the danger of being an idiot.

    July 21, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. dflye

    While I feel sad about the loss of life, the age of the people involved would lead one to believe it is a combination of the youthful feeling of invincibility, lack of understanding of the true risk and a willingness to ignore the warning signs, which are usually pretty blatant (at least the signs I've seen near various Yosemite waterfalls that don't exactly hold anything back)

    There isn't any excuse for non-English speaking folks either, the sign imagery and barriers should clue in most folks to not cross the line.

    If you do cross the line, well, don't expect me to help pay to clean up the mess your body makes hitting the bottom of the falls!

    July 21, 2011 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
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