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Published April 29, 2012, 12:00 AM

Death in the canyon

The most common cause, most unusual and most grisly
You don’t want Michael P. Ghiglieri writing about your next vacation. Ghiglieri, an Arizona river guide, Vietnam vet, ecology PhD and seasoned emergency medical technician, is also the coauthor, with Thomas M. Myers, of “Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon,” a collection of cautionary tales that’s in its second edition.

By: McClatchy Newspapers, INFORUM

You don’t want Michael P. Ghiglieri writing about your next vacation.

Ghiglieri, an Arizona river guide, Vietnam vet, ecology PhD and seasoned emergency medical technician, is also the coauthor, with Thomas M. Myers, of “Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon,” a collection of cautionary tales that’s in its second edition.

I emailed Ghiglieri some questions, and he offered a flood of information and anecdotes. For instance: the most common cause of death in the canyon (neither heart attack nor dehydration), and one cause of death that’s never been repeated (a rattlesnake was involved). Here’s an edited version of our exchange.

Question: What’s the most common cause of death in the park?

Answer: Air crashes. All told, there have been 65 fatal crashes of various aircraft in and around the canyon, accounting for 379 victims.

Most unusual death?

Being scared to death by a rattlesnake. In 1933, a 43-year-old prospector named Cochrane from California was hiking down Snake Gulch (for real). He was terrified of snakes. A rattlesnake coiled up and rattled at him and made a partial strike, a feint. Cochrane leaped backward and died of heart failure, confirmed by a physician.

How many have died in the canyon?

It’s complicated. About 683 people have died below the rims (thus “in” Grand Canyon) during the known history of Grand Canyon after the early 1860s. Since the canyon became a national park in 1919, the number is 653 people – but not all of them died in the park, because the canyon extends well beyond the park boundaries to the Navajo, Havasupai and Hualapai Indian reservations and Lake Mead Recreational Area.

What’s changed about how and why people die in the park?

Over the last decade, proportionally more people have been dying from environmental problems – mainly heat – while hiking. There were also proportionally more people dying from falls within the canyon (as opposed to those from the rims). There also have been proportionally more private boaters (noncommercial) drowning. And the canyon has seen an upsurge in suicide leaps from the rims.

Did someone once jump to his death from a sightseeing helicopter?

Richard Clam decided to commit suicide in this way in June 2004. Clam plunged about 4,000 feet. No scene in “CSI” was more grisly than Clam’s impact point.

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