Death in the Grand Canyon: Suicides, murder, mishaps in Natural Wonder's deadly history

The Grand Canyon is a place of majesty, magnitude – and death.

Team rescuing woman who fell over the edge at Grand Canyon/File photo from NPS

Two recently hit in less than a week. One of them, a man who tumbled over the edge Oct. 1, gave rise to a number of rumors that attempted to explain his fall.

The National Park Service’s official news release said a witness told park personnel the man had been jumping from one rock outcropping to another.

No way is that true, said some, while others started spinning unverifiable yarns nearly immediately. One claimed he was not only jumping but wearing flip flops while doing it. Another said he had been getting his photo taken by his girlfriend and she watched him fall.

While these rumors may sound ridiculous – and be wholly untrue in this particular case – chances are someone did, in fact, die from similar circumstances in the Grand Canyon’s deadly history.

“How many people die here each year?” is a question constantly asked by Canyon visitors, says the book “Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon” – not an inquiry easily answered.

Authors Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers, who pored over decades of records, news stories, anecdotes and often conflicting accounts, offer no pat answer.

Hundreds of deaths overall is the best response they could give, noting some deaths go unreported and some bodies not found for years – or ever.

The Grand Canyon shows no mercy – and often offers no second chances.

Deaths included in news releases this year alone include one jump ruled a suicide, three falls and two unexplained young hiker deaths. In addition to fatalities tied to the Canyon itself, one man was killed when his truck smashed into a tree at Grand Canyon National Park.

Suicides, mishaps, carelessness, freak accidents, venomous critters, murders – death in the Canyon comes in many forms.

A mother of five was found dead after being stabbed 42 times with an ice pick, beaten with a wrench, shot several times and dragged to the edge of a cliff and thrown over, landing 50 feet below.

Grand Canyon on mules/File photo

Heart attacks, dehydration, flash floods, lightning strikes and Colorado River drownings also take their fair share of victims, as do stunts meant to be funny or daring that end up being fatal.

One dad playing a practical joke on his daughter pretended to fall backwards off the rim onto a hidden ledge below, “Over the Edge,” reports. The only problem was he missed the hidden ledge when momentum instead pulled him down into the Canyon’s deadly depths.

At least two men were killed while “hamming it up” for tourist cameras while jumping between rock ledges, one of whom had been recently rescued for the same stunt.

A daredevil diver never surfaced alive after swan-diving 196-feet into 12-feet of water at the bottom of Mooney Falls in Havasu Canyon. A doctor examining the body reported possible drug use.

Another death came about when a man decided to eat blossoms of the scared Datura he found along one of the trails and perished from toxicity.

The point of mentioning these deaths, and one of the goals of “Over the Edge,” is to remind people that the wilderness is, well, wild.

Many modern folks have largely become large, out of shape and, as “Over the Edge” says, wholly domesticated – not prime candidates for strenuous hiking or rafting in the Canyon. Even those in the best of shape can fall victim to Mother Nature.

People also need to keep in mind that help may take some time to arrive in and around a massive, treacherous gorge.

Although some may cry for the park service to install guardrails, pavement, ramps, flashing neon signs and other safety devices in each and every Canyon nook and cranny, such defacing of a national park is actually against the law. “The 1916 National Park Organic Act dictates that the National Park Service must leave national parks in their natural state.”

It’s up to visitors to know, and respect, their own limits, especially when pitted against the unrelenting rock face of nature.

Although the Grand Canyon is a destination of many a family vacation – it certainly is no Disneyland.

_

Note: Condolences to family and friends of all those who died in the Grand Canyon. This piece is not meant to be hurtful to survivors, but rather helpful to others by reminding them of dangers.

Grand Canyon deaths Jan. 1 through Oct. 1, 2010*

Andrew Stires, 42, fell to his death Oct. 1 in an area just off the rim trail on the South Rim.

Gavin C. Smith, 30, was found dead Sept. 29 after he told his hiking friends to go ahead down the trail, he’ll wait at the halfway point for them to get him when they hike their way out.

Randy Nelson, 22, was killed and two other men injured Aug. 23 when their truck smashed into a tree on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

Karthryn Roth, 22, was found dead July 8 just below the North Rim of the Grand Canyon after not returning as expected. Park rangers found her hiking partner rafting solo down the river in the late morning of July 8. He said he last saw Roth July 6.

Kirby Porter, 50, was found dead July 12 about 250 feet below the rim at Grand Canyon’s Moran Point. A call the previous night reported a man getting out of his car, climbing over the Moran Point retaining wall and then lying down on the edge of the canyon rim.

Michael McMahon, 64, plummeted to his death on May 21, after reportedly running up to – and over – the rim. His death was ruled a suicide.

The body of a man, whose identity was not immediately disclosed, was found about 30 feet below the south rim of the Grand Canyon on Jan. 6.

*These are only deaths reported in news releases from National Park Service, more have likely occurred.

“Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon,” originally published in 2001 and updated to include deaths from as late as 2008, offers “Gripping accounts of all known fatal mishaps in the most famous of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders.” Authors Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers both worked in and have been intimately acquainted with the Grand Canyon for years.

[tnipoll]


Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist, performer and TucsonCitizen.com Ryngmaster. Her column appears every Friday on Rynski’s Blogski. Her art, writing and more is at RynRules.com and Rynski.Etsy.com. E-mail rynski@tucsoncitizen.com.

What do you think?

Have you had a brush with death at the Grand Canyon or other wilderness area?

Should the parks department be allowed to install safety measures in national parks, heck with the law?

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About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at ryngargulinski.com.
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8 Responses to Death in the Grand Canyon: Suicides, murder, mishaps in Natural Wonder's deadly history

  1. Alan in Kent WA says:

    We cannot protect ourselves from ourselves.  Having worked hospitality for a long time, people look forward to getting away from it all, thinking that they can get away from it all.  However, certain laws, like the laws of physics, will get in the way of something that is thought harmless.  I think of the spring break death in Florida a while back where it took three attempts of jumping from the second floor walkway into the pool for the guy to kill himself.  There is absolutely no cure for stupid.

    • Rynski says:

      well said, alan in kent wa – esp. your note on the laws of physics and other such pesky laws that perhaps get in the way.
      the diving death you note definitely falls into that category. i was wholly amazed at some similar stunts pulled at the grand canyon outline in the ‘over the edge’ book, esp. one i mentioned from the ham who had been rescued days before.
      amazing.
      i do hope the park preservation law stands to stop the entire world from being disney-fied – not only with safety devices/measures at every turn, but also cheap, plastic and sparkly, as was the fate of once seedy, sordid and wholly romantic areas of nyc.
      thanks for input, as always!

  2. fraser007 says:

    Darwin is alive and well.

  3. fraser007 says:

    The Grand Canyon does things to people. When I was there last we noticed something about the visitore. We are from Tucson, in Arizona since 1919 (wifes family) and 1966 (my family) have been to the Canyon several times. A lot of the tourists seem to visit the same way. They have expensive “hiking gear”. You know what I mean, expensive shoes, backpacks, the high end clothes. And I bet only 1% of them take the hike to the bottom. What kind of clothes and gear do you need to drive to the next overlook point? Or jump off?
    Just my observations.

  4. Robert says:

    I agree.  I just returned from the GC. It was our first time and we are still in awe.  I think part of the rush of this amazing site is the fact that only your good sense stands between you and death.  Standing there, peering over the edge,  the tingle and weak knees you get can’t be duplicated.   I hope it stays this way forever.
        To the yuppies that think it needs made safer:  Get a babysitter, stay away from the edge, and don’t be stupid.  To those that feel the need to show off: Go up on the roof of your two story house and jump off it. You neighbor is surely a willing audience.

    • Rynski says:

      thanks, robert – agree with your comments – esp what makes part of the thrill – ‘only your good sense stands between you and death.’
      amazing place, from what i hear – my only visit was when i was about 2 years old.
      i hope it STAYS amazing and yes, the rooftop is a preferable option for the showoffs.

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