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. John Hicks

    Being on vacation right now in Yosemite, I can tell you all the falls (Yosemite, Bridal Veil, Nevada, etc.) are just roaring away like we've never seen them. The Merced River down on the valley floor is running heavy with lots of deep undercurrents visible from the surface. We still see people today (Thurs.) climbing the big boulders at the base of Yosemite Falls where the water is flying everywhere. People never seem to learn or follow the ample cautionary signs and barriers, even after Tues. tragedy! They think they're in control and know better than the experienced park people.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:27 am | Report abuse |
  2. G sus

    Seventeen months

    July 22, 2011 at 12:37 am | Report abuse |

    I feel nothing but heartbreak after reading through most of the comments. Let's remember that these were HUMAN LIVES lost, and before any one of you point the finger and blame, or JUDGE another person take a second look in the mirror. I will keep all of you IGNORANT "Americans" in my prayers tonight. May the Lord above grant you all a HEART!!!!
    also before making fun of their non-Americanized names, remember that we ALL are immigrants to this land. Think Twice. Do YOUR RESEARCH!!!

    July 22, 2011 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Native American

      For ASSYRIANCHRISTIAN... Who are you talking to? I am Native American. I am NOT an IMMIGRANT. Why don't you do YOUR research before you post such a STUPID comment. Gvhnige Gihli!

      July 22, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Crater

      It should be remembered that even Native Americans came across the Bering Straits on a bridge that no longer exists, round about 10,000 years ago. So AssyrianChristian is fundamentally correct. And I'm part Native American, by the way.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:47 am | Report abuse |
    • steve

      save your prayers on somebody else
      i don't want them

      July 22, 2011 at 2:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Native American

      Are you kidding me? That is ONLY a theory that Native Americans came over on a bridge 10,000 years ago.
      So.. Native Americans are not Native? If we were the FIRST ones EVER on this continent...aren't we considered "Native"? PLUEASSSSE!

      July 26, 2011 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  4. Roger james

    So very sad. You people who judge...you have your reward. They hit the stone very hard and their lives were taken from them. So just take a step back and give them some small quarter. They were wrong. They paid the price. They are gone forever. Still...any death of a fellow human diminishes us. U who rejoice are lost. Grieve for them the few.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |

      Amen! Finally a comment I agree with. Thank you Roger, I applaud your heartfelt remark that does not point a finger and judge young lost souls.

      July 22, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
    • steve

      get off your podium you are a bore

      July 22, 2011 at 2:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Bones About It

      What are you talking about. Unless these kids saw God Himself, they truly had no reason to be so arrogant to climb over the rail. I can understand if they were trying to save someone else, but they put themselves in dangers way purposely. Where does this type of arrogance come from? And particularly in a church group, since someone seems to want to promote that tidbit of information. Deaths of fellow humans do not diminish us. Who is us?!?!? There are some people who are off the map that has made this world a lot better, should we mourn for them also? It sounds like you like to spend more time weeping over the dead, than taking advantage of the faith that there is still hope for the ones on earth. If these kids were Christians, then why weep! You are simply weepy over their stupidity that caused their deaths. Had they been thrown over or somehow swept away by a mysterious shift of the river, then I can see a couple or two tears, but this is a lesson that I will tell my kids, which will be – Dont be so stupid!

      July 22, 2011 at 7:17 am | Report abuse |
  5. Yes It Can

    People tend to forget that Yosemite is wilderness and in the wilderness Mother Nature is the ultimate arbiter of stupid.

    July 22, 2011 at 12:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeff Williams

      So true.....

      August 8, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
  6. pam

    Idiots! I have no sympathy for stupid people

    July 22, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Glenn

      On day you may do something dumb and die. Should people grieve for you?

      July 22, 2011 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. Mary

    Many arrogant p r i c k s on here tonight....

    July 22, 2011 at 1:19 am | Report abuse |
  8. JJ

    Don't mess with nature. It's bigger than you are.

    July 22, 2011 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
  9. Badger

    The internet can always be counted on to mock the newly deceased.

    July 22, 2011 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
  10. Janet

    I live here in Kings Co., California, and after a wet winter we had here the County warned people of high level of water in the rivers. Residents along the Kings River in Kings and Fresno Counties and in Tulare County, the Kaweah River, which is located within 20 miles of the Sequoia National Park entrance, had higher than normal water levels in early spring. We were all warned of the hazards and dangers of Kings River, Kaweah Lake and River, Kern River and smaller tributaries in surrounding areas. Many rivers were closed due to high levels and a lot of people have ignored these warnings and swam and then sadly drowned. We hope and pray for the recovery of these three people, but be mindful of signs and warnings, People!

    July 22, 2011 at 2:17 am | Report abuse |
  11. steve

    dumb stupid people paid the price

    July 22, 2011 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |

    how can you people be so cruel and so ignorant about these poor 3 assyrian kids? for the ignorant racist people who were saying horrible things, these 3 young kids were on a youth church trip. how dare you say they deserved their death. nobody deserves a tragic death like that, and for people to sit here and say they deserved what they got SHAME ON YOU. people disgust me in this country. how did we go from land of the free, to an ignorant country with unintelligent people saying 3 young kids deserved their death? how can you people blame this on a racial reason, when in fact people clearly have no idea what there talking about. before you so rudely attack ASSYRIANS, google it. people have no right to attack a race they don't even know about. because when these 3 young kids were on a church group, i'd like to see what other young kids were doing on that night. they were beautiful blessed people who made a wrong decision by taking a picture. do not blame it on a racial thing and make it seem like ASSYRIANS are dumb people who do not know what they are doing. i have faith and i believe GOD blesses everyone in this world, even the ignorant ones.

    July 22, 2011 at 2:22 am | Report abuse |
    • Bones About It

      What makes this situation worse is that you seem to want to promote the fact that they are Assyrian Christians, moreso than just the fact that they are Christians. Are Assyrian Christians more important than American Christians to the point that they do not have to follow American danger signs. Maybe we should have had the signs posted especially for Assyrian Christians, since they are so much more prestine than us plain ole Americans Christians. Well, sorry, someone obviously did not get that memo and neither did these kids. Even G*d warns us not to be arrogant and "testy". You may call Americans racists, etc etc, however, rivers and danger do not discriminate. The only people that discriminate were these 3 Assyrians Christians who obviously thought that they were somehow more than who they were. At the end of the day little do they know that they would turn up with the same consequences as a plain ole American Christian had one attempted such a supernatural feat! Stupid actions are stupid regardless of language, race or religion~ G*d Bless

      July 22, 2011 at 7:07 am | Report abuse |
  13. hkgduck

    While I deeply regret the loss of life, this was not an accident due to a "dangerous" or "deceptive" river. This was a loss of life due to a basic and tragic self centered narcissism. The people involved in the accident basically felt that the rules (keep behind the railing) did not apply to them. They felt that they were special and could climb over for a "better look" that was somehow being denied them. This is why I teach my kids to follow the rules.

    July 22, 2011 at 2:34 am | Report abuse |
  14. Heather

    This is such a sad story... I wish that these three young people could have had a " do over" and made a different decision. I tell my son often that while nature and the wilds are beautiful and awesome there can be little room for error and sometimes the price that is paid is exceedingly high. My son and I enjoy being outdoors but one of the first and oft repeated lessons I have given him is to respect nature and always use common sense. I am so sorry for the families of these young people and I extend my condolences to each of them.

    July 22, 2011 at 2:35 am | Report abuse |
  15. NEV

    I think its really CUTE that America can stay brainwashed into "mourning" the "death" of Caylee after three years, yet when they see a Christian Church group of twenty year old kids fall 300 Feet in a waterfall to their DEATHS , all they can do is say "OH! HOW STUPID... DUHHH Id never do that.. " THE BOTTOM LINE IS.. NOBODY is perfect and YES, They ignored signs HOWEVER – accidents happen and NO MATTER THE CAUSE they are GONE and it is HEARTBREAKING for their community. I wish everyone would get their heads out of their you know whats for ONCE in this country.

    July 22, 2011 at 2:40 am | Report abuse |
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