Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chain reaction rescue gone wrong: Three hikers presumed dead after climbing safety rail at Yosemite waterfall and ignoring calls to come back

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Three hikers who jumped a guard rail at Yosemite National Park were playing close to a massive waterfall before being pulled by raging water. 
Hormiz David, 22, Ninos Yacoub, 27, and Ramina Badal, 21, all from California, are presumed dead after the incident at the park’s Vernal Falls.
The three friends were playing and taking pictures in waters 25 feet away from the 317-foot falls despite urgings from onlookers to come back.
Park spokesman Scott Gediman told the L.A. Times that the second victim tried to rescue the first, and the third victim tried to save the other two.
Park officials said rangers would continue searching the Merced River at the bottom of the falls for any sign of the victims.
Friends from their close-knit central California community of Christians with roots in the Middle East gathered for a prayer vigil Wednesday evening, grieving their deaths.
Tanya Badal, the sister of Ramina Badal, saw her sister go over the falls. She declined to talk about what happened atop Vernal's precipice, but said despite the passage of time she was still praying the three would be found alive.
‘I still have hope,’ she said outside of St. George's Church in the central California town of Ceres.
Badal's parents, Tony and Virginia, supported each other as they walked sobbing into the church. When Virginia's knees buckled, Tony caught her.
‘This will be a chance for us to re-educate our young people about how valuable life is,’ said Charmain Morad-Daniel, a member of the Assyrian National Council of Stanislaus County, as mourners packed the church.
Other hikers, including several children in their group, could only watch as the rushing water swept all three students over the edge.
‘Everyone was screaming,’ witness Jake Bibee said. ‘People were praying.’
‘They were honest, righteous Christians trying to live their lives the right way,’ said friend Ninos Piro, 36. ‘They were trying to be a good influence on everyone around them. That's why you see everyone so torn up around here.’
Yesterday afternoon, hundreds of tourists climbed the 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall after the path was reopened.
The path to the top of Vernal Falls, a three-mile trek with a 1,000-foot rise in elevation, is one of the most popular hikes in the park.
A guardrail separates visitors from the water atop the falls, and signs in multiple languages warn of the danger created by slippery boulders. 
At least 13 people have been killed by falling over the edge since records began being kept in the 1920s.
Visitors often underestimate the force of water created by record snowfall, and the mist from waterfalls creates slippery conditions on trails.
Park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said that at least eight people have died in the park this year alone.
In May, two men lost their lives after they were swept off a bridge near the park's Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
In June, a hiker’s body caught on a rock traumatized visitors at the Merced River, as rescuers were not able to reach it for hours.
A man who disappeared while hiking with his church group near Yosemite Falls later that month remains missing.


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