Thursday, July 21, 2011

After hikers plunge over falls, Yosemite says warning is adequate

Search for 3 people missing in Yosemite is hampered by raging river

Treacherous conditions on the Merced River have limited the search for three people who were swept over Vernal Fall on Tuesday to foot patrols.

Vernal Fall
Hikers make their way up the Mist Trail leading to the top of Vernal Fall. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)
Search-and-rescue teams have spent days scouring the banks of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park after three people were swept away over Vernal Fall, but it could be weeks — even months — before the victims are found, park officials said.

Treacherous river conditions caused by a larger-than-normal snow pack this winter have so far limited the search to foot patrols.

"There's so much water and so much churning and so much power behind that water that it would just be completely unsafe to insert park rangers and search-and-rescue divers into the water," said park spokeswoman Kari Cobb. "You wouldn't be able to see anything."

Aerial efforts are also limited because of the canyon the river flows through.

Ramina Badal, 21, of Manteca; Hormiz David, 22, of Modesto; and Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock, were with a church group hiking the park's popular Mist Trail to the top of the 317-foot waterfall. Witnesses said the three were among several members of the group who climbed over a metal barricade into the water despite posted signs and repeated warnings from other hikers.

They were about 25 feet from the edge of the waterfall when witnesses say Badal slipped. A second person tried to rescue her and then a third tried to save the other two. All three were swept over the waterfall as horrified bystanders and friends watched helplessly.

More than 30 people searched for the victims Tuesday and Wednesday, Cobb said. That number was scaled back to about 20 on Thursday. They will continue through the weekend, Cobb said, but after that, rangers will wait for lower water levels and warmer temperatures before sending teams out.More...

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