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After waterfall deaths, Yosemite officials renew warnings

July 21, 2011 |  6:15 am

After the deaths of three hikers swept over a Yosemite waterfall this week, officials are renewing their warnings to be cautious around the park's waterways, still raging because of a late snowmelt.

The accident brings the number of water-related deaths in Yosemite this year to six, park officials said. Two hikers drowned in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on June 29, and a hiker slipped and fell into the Merced River on the Mist Trail on May 13.

Twelve people have gone over Vernal Fall in the past, park officials said. None survived.

Photos: Four season's in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park spokesman Scott Gediman said rangers were collecting statements and photographs from witnesses to try to piece together what happened, but "none of this will bring these people back."

The Mist Trail leading to Vernal Fall is one of the park's most popular, Gediman said, and about 1,500 make the trek to the top of the waterfall each day without incident. He insisted that the park provides sufficient warnings of the dangers, and that the spot is safe if visitors follow the rules. He said the guardrail took "some effort" to climb over.

Hormiz David, 22, of Modesto; Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock; and Ramina Badal, 21, of Manteca were on a day trip to Yosemite with friends and family Tuesday afternoon when they climbed over a metal guardrail at the top of Vernal Fall near Curry Village in Yosemite Valley, park officials said.

Witnesses told rangers that several people urged the group to get out of the cold, fast-moving water, but the three were swept over the 317-foot fall.

A breakdown of deaths at the park in recent years shows no significant increase this year, water-related or otherwise, said Kari Cobb, a Yosemite park ranger.

There were nine total deaths in 2008, 14 in 2009 and 15 in 2010 and there have been 12 so far this year. Those figures include all causes of death, but Cobb said that, in general, drownings and other water-related incidents are the No. 1 cause.

Half the deaths this year have been water-related, which Cobb said might be a slight uptick. "One or two higher than in previous years; nothing substantial," she said.

"Visitors coming now should be aware water level is higher than normal for this time of year. Most of the water in the rivers and waterfalls is snowmelt, so not only is it high, it's cold and it's swift and fast," Cobb said.


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-- Robert Faturechi and Kate Mather

Photo: A no swimming sign is shown at Emerald Pool above Vernal Fall Wednesday in Yosemite National Park. Credit: Eric Paul Zamora / Fresno Bee