National Park Deaths

Timothy Nolan - Strange Deaths in U.S. national parks

Timothy Nolan Yosemite

Timothy Nolan, disappeared September 9th 2015, Body Found September 15th, Yosemite National Park

Tim Nolan, 36, had a wilderness permit to backpack from Happy Isles to Tuolumne Meadows from September 1-4, 2015 in the Yosemite National Park. According to his mother, he had planned on hiking a loop: Happy Isles-Little Yosemite Valley-Sunrise Lakes-Tuolumne Meadows-Lyell Canyon-Rafferty Creek-Vogelsang-Merced Lake-Little Yosemite Valley-Happy Isles, ending September 9.

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite

But Nolan failed to show up and after extensive searches by park rangers, utilising ground teams, dog teams, and the park’s helicopter. Visitors to the park later spotted Nolan’s body in the afternoon of September 15th.

It had been quite a month of disappearances in Yosemite National Park in September 2015.

On September 1, the National Parks Service announced it found the body of James Michael Millet, Jr., who had been missing for three weeks. Millet, 39, had gone missing during a planned hike to Upper Yosemite Falls. Then, on September 6, 24-year-old graduate student Matthew Baldwin, studying at University of Nevada, Reno, was found deceased near the El Capitan Gully. He was last seen Aug. 25.

Despite a request to the Yosemite National Park in February 2016 for a Freedom of Information Act request for a law enforcement report on Tim Nolan, the Department of the Interior refused to grant authority on the grounds of privacy. Why was the DOI so reluctant to put information in the public domain?  What happened to Tom and the other dead hikers in the summer of 2015? There was little media attention relating to the circumstances behind the death and particularly the cause of death on that fateful hike.

Timothy nolan, freedom of information request denied

The German Tourists - Disturbing deaths in U.S. national parks and deserts

Egbert Rimkus, Georg Weber, Cornelia Meyer, Max Meyer, Disappeared 23 July 1996, Bodies found (Rimkus and Cornelia Meyer) November 12, 2009, Death Valley National Park

rimkus and meyer death valley

On October 21, 1996, Death Valley National Park (DVNP) Ranger Dave Brenner was on a helicopter flying over the southern part of Death Valley, which straddles California and Nevada.  He was involved in an aerial surveillance mission looking for illegal drug manufacturing labs. 

In the late morning he spotted a car in Anvil Canyon, about 2.4 miles downstream from Willow Spring.  This was surprising to him as it was a standard passenger van and not an off road four wheel drive and in most circumstances wouldn't get far in the Canyon due to the terrain.  Also, there was no official road down Anvil Canyon any longer as of October 1994 as a result of the Desert Protection Act which meant it was designated an official wilderness area, thus prohibiting vehicle use in it. Local miners had stopped using the area to access their activities.  

When the chopper landed, Brenner checked the area and the car, which turned out to be a dust covered, green, 1996 Plymouth Voyager with California license plates.  The car was locked and it looked like it had been there for some time and was stuck, with the axles deep in the sand. The front left and two rear tyres were flat and tracks in the sand looked like it had been driven some distance with these flat tyres. 

Anvil Canyon Death Valley

Checks on the license plate with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) revealed the car was reported stolen by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) on September 10, 1996.  It was owned by Dollar car rentals and had been rented to a group of four German tourists in Los Angeles on July 8, 1996 - Egbert Rimkus, 34, his son Georg Weber, 11, Egbert’s girlfriend Cornelia Meyer, 28, and her son Max Meyer, 4.  It had been due back in Los Angeles on July 26, but had never been returned to the renters.  Dollar usually waited at least 30 days before reporting one of their cars stolen to police.

Further investigations showed the German group left Frankfurt Airport and arrived in the United States at Seattle on July 8, then immediately flew to Los Angeles where they picked up their rental car.  Cornelia Meyer was recorded as the driver.  They had plane tickets on TWA to return to Germany on July 27th but they failed to board. They lived in Dresden. 

In early July the Germans explored the San Clemente area of Southern California and on July 12th, Egbert Rimkus made a call to his bank in Dresden requesting $1,500 be wired to a Bank of America branch in San Clemente, though it was wired on to a Bank of America branch in Los Angeles.

Pictures on their recovered camera suggest they travelled on to the California coast before heading to the Treasure Island Hotel in Las Vegas. They checked out of the hotel on July 22nd and drove on to Death Valley. At the time of their visit to the Valley, temperatures were hitting a super hot 124˚ Fahrenheit (51˚C). Their ultimate destination was Yosemite National Park in California.

Receipts at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center showed that on that day someone bought two copies of the “Death Valley National Monument Museum Text” in German.  One of these booklets was found in the abandoned car in Anvil Canyon.

Death Valley missing germans car

On October 22,  DVNP Investigator Eric Inman was flown into the area of Anvil Canyon and he started an initial search and photographed the scene.  Apart from Dave Brenner’s tracks from the previous day, no other footprints were visible around the vehicle.  Some food wrappers were found near the people carrier, as well as some faeces and toilet paper. 

Inman returned via the CHP helicopter to Badwater Road in Death Valley where he met with Detective Jim Jones and Corporal Leon Boyer from the Inyo Sheriff’s Office. They then went back to Anvil by car and Inman was flown back in around 1 PM. They opened the car's doors and inside was an American flag with “Butte Valley Stone Cabin” on it. This cabin, also known as the “Geologist’s Cabin” is located in Butte Valley 4.1 miles west from the car's location in Anvil Canyon.  This cabin is a shelter with some food and water from Anvil Spring.  The flag had apparently been taken from the cabin. They also found two unopened bottles of Bud Ice beer and one empty bottle, one empty and one ¾ full bottle of bourbon, several empty large water and juice containers, luggage and clothing, several rolls of 35 mm film and a “Practika” 35 mm camera, one new Coleman sleeping bag in its box and one empty Coleman sleeping bag box, a tent, a pipe with tobacco, a leather card carrier containing bank cards and a Citicorp credit card, a card from the “Sea Horse Resort” in San Clemente, childrens's toys an unused compact spare tyre and jack. The van was removed from Anvil Canyon on October 23rd.

Due to the of altitude of around 3000 feet at the location, the high temperature at the car’s location on July 23 would have been about 107˚F (42˚C) and the low around 79˚F (26˚C).

warm spring mine site log book Germany tourists death valley

Then another discovery was made by investigators. The visitor logbook for the Warm Spring mine site, on the route between the main valley and Butte Valley, had an entry by the German group on July 23rd, saying in German, “We are going over the pass”, and was signed, “Conny, Egbert, Georg, Max”.

Butte Valley Death Valley

The pass referred to in the mine site book was probably Mengle Pass, located a few miles from Anvil Canyon at the southwesterly end of Butte Valley, and the only means by which to cross the Panamint Mountain range for many miles.  However , t is an extremely rugged route, only able to be traversed by 4WD vehicles and certainly not by the Plymouth Voyager.

Further investigation indicated the group had not stayed at the Furnace Creek Ranch or Inn, the Stovepipe Wells Resort or at the Furnace Creek Campground.  Their whereabouts between being at the DVNP Visitor Center on July 22nd and signing the Warm Spring log book on July 23rd were unknown at the time. It is likely they decided to stay in the car, using the sleeping bags, as they appeared to be short of money.

On the morning of October 23rd a search effort was begun by the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group (CLMRG), trackers from the Indian Wells Valley Search and Rescue Group and eight mounted units from the Kern County Sheriff’s Mounted Search and Rescue. They focused on Anvil Canyon to its entrance at the Warm Spring Road.

Members of the CLMRG found a Bud Ice beer bottle stuck in the sand in Anvil Canyon next to a bush around 1.7 miles east from the people carrier's location.  A ledge had been cleared in the dirt, and someone left a large seat print next to the bottle.   

On Day two, the search area was expanded and SAR teams arrived from Nye County, Nevada and Inyo County and two helicopters were brought in.  Areas searched this day included more of Anvil Canyon, portions of Warm Spring Road and Butte Valley, Mengle Pass, the area adjacent to Warm Spring Road between the canyon mouth and Westside Road and from the van location easterly to the head of Anvil Canyon at Willow Spring.  

On October 25th a team from DVNP searched the area between the mouth of Anvil Canyon and the far side of the main valley at Badwater Road and a SAR team from Victorville searched the southeasterly perimeters of Butte Valley.  A BLM ranger began a search of the route on the west side of Mengle Pass, between Ballarat and Barker Ranch.  A team from Lake Mead NP searched from Anvil Canyon northerly, over the mountains and down into Butte Valley.  The Indian Wells team did an intensive search around Willow Spring, at the head of Anvil Canyon.  CLMRG started from the middle of Anvil Canyon, then went north, then westerly.  

The fourth day, October 26th, was the final day of searching for the group in this hostile environment  The DVNP team checked areas northerly of Warm Spring Canyon as well as mine areas a lost person might have sought shelter in.  The Victorville team performed searching around Striped Butte in Butte Valley.  The Lake Mead team also checked Striped Butte, as well as walking the Warm Spring Canyon Road.  The BLM ranger on the west side of Mengle Pass continued searching that area, as well as other possible routes the party may have used if travelling westerly towards Ballarat.  The Indian Wells team searched the vicinity of Warm Spring Road and Westside Road when some footprints had been found.  A vehicle SAR team from Apple Valley, new to the search, searched areas along Westside Road from Warm Spring Canyon Road northerly, where a party may have sought shelter.  Finally, aerial reconnaissance was made via two helicopters in all quadrants surrounding Anvil Canyon (including south), but was hampered by high winds. 

At the end of the day, with no new clues found since the beer bottle on the first day, and no hope whatsoever that the party would be found alive, the search was called off. It was estimated by a DVNP spokesperson that at least 250 people were involved in the search.  The areas searched were well reasoned and a high probability of success was expected.  But no sign of the Germans was found.

Many additional searches were made over the years by search and rescue teams as well as by private groups (Emmett Harder and Dick Hasselman produced details reports, the former report called “Cauldron of Hell Fire”).  CLMRG searched additional areas and examined mine shafts. Still no signs. 

Emmett Harder had been granted access by the Inyo Sheriff’s Office to view the pictures recovered from the Germans’ camera.  Due to his familiarity with the area, he recognised a sunset picture, looking easterly down into the main valley as having been taken in Hanaupah Canyon, located about 17 miles northerly of Warm Spring Canyon.  Given the presence of the Germans at the DV Visitors Center on July 22, and their Warm Spring log book entry of July 23rd, this suggests the Germans made camp in the upper reaches of Hanaupah Canyon the night of July 22nd.

The Hasselman report indicated there was a story of an individual on an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) finding two “German canteens” in an area described as being the midpoint of a straight line drawn been Sugarloaf and Needle Peak.  This would have been about 3-1/2 miles southeasterly of the people carrier's location.  It also said that in the three month period between when the Germans went to Death Valley and their vehicle being discovered, a ranger on patrol about 18 miles to the south found a sleeping bag in the middle of a remote dirt road. Could it be the missing sleeping bag from the Plymouth Voyager? The sleeping bag was discarded as trash by the ranger. The road where the bag was found is very remote, ending at a microwave relay tower at the time owned by AT&T.  

AT&T tower Death Valley

What happened to the German Group back in July 1996?

Some postulated at the time that the Germans staged a disappearance and started new lives.  Egbert's co-workers said he talked about moving to Costa Rica. But why choose Death Valley?

Another theory was that Egbert was trying to get to the  China Lake NWC facility to find “hybrid propulsion” technology and either the group had been forcibly conscripted into a black ops US government program or they saw something they weren’t supposed to see and were “eliminated” by the government.  Maybe they met foul play by coming across criminals involved in illegal activity or a psychopath out in the desert? 

Tom Mahood, Death valley Germans search

It wasn’t until 2009, when Tom Mahood, a search and rescue worker with Los Angeles County, began reading about the case. It was one of the things, he said later, that inspired him to train for and join a Search and Rescue team.

He theorised the following may have happened to them:

The maps in the  "Death Valley National Monument Museum Text” booklet they had purchased showed a route to the west, via Butte Valley and Mengle Pass, past the infamous Barker Ranch where Charles Manson’s followers stayed, then north to the ghost town of Ballarat and on to Yosemite.  The most likely scenario is that on the morning of the 23rd, they left Hanaupah Canyon and continued south to Warm Spring Road and turned west. They would have experienced a very fine dirt road at that point and at the Warm Spring camp, they probably stopped because they thought it was an active settlement of some sort to make inquiries as to road conditions further west. Instead, they found the deserted Warm Spring camp so they signed the register, indicating they were going over the Mengle Pass. Continuing west toward Butte Valley, they would have encountered poor road conditions before finding the Stone Cabin. They probably stopped and make another attempt to inquire about road conditions, but when doing so, found it empty and so they went on with the stolen flag. As they approached Mengle Pass they could go no further.

Their booklet offered an alternative, shorter route back down to the valley in the form of a road down Anvil Canyon. Of course, this route wasn't a good one, especially in the late afternoon with daylight fading. The Germans return to the intersection at the Stone Cabin and turn right onto Anvil Canyon Road and probably with a desire to get to Yosemite they were driving way too fast for the road conditions. Then the rocks burst the tyres and they were really in trouble. With three flats, it was impossible to go on.

Perhaps, Egbert, looking at the maps available to him, would have seen the northern boundary of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center (NWC) to be only about 8 or 9 miles to the south of them.  It would be easy to imagine crossing the hills he was looking at to the south and seeing the safety of a military installation just a few miles further.  

The group then probably spent the night at the van (a stay of some duration was evidenced by the presence of the faecal material in dug holes) and then early the next morning locked the vehicle and headed east down Anvil Canyon to a little past the bottle bush, then turned south toward the China Lake NWC boundary in hope of rescue.  

While official searchers maintained that Rimkus and Meyer and their children would not have gone south into Wingate Wash and so decided not to search there, Mahood concluded that they were wrong and it was their likely destination. He decided to search toward the boundary of the China Lake Naval Weapons Station. He reasoned that the Germans may have believed that rescue could be found at the station on a false belief that it would be protected by soldiers and have personnel on site.

Mahood and his search partner Les Walker after hours of hiking found scattered human bones and Conny Meyer’s tattered day planner, southeast of the isolated area called Goler Wash. Conny Meyer and Egbert Rimkus’ bones were found about eight miles from their van in very rugged, desolate terrain leaving behind beer bottles as well as two empty water containers. The discovery put an end once and for all of the questions and the hope that the missing Germans had been living a secret life somewhere in America. Subsequent searches by the pair and official investigators found more bones, but there was not enough DNA to positively connect them with the children. 

Bravo to Tom Mahood and Les Walker for persevering and spending many hours researching the case and hiking in dangerous wilderness to find the remains to bring the case to a close after 13 long years. The family in Dresden in Germany could finally find some sense of closure of wondering so long after the fate of the Rimkus and Meyer family. Certainly Mahood was frustrated with the lack of co-operation from the authorities responsible in that part of Death Valley and without Mahood the Germans would still likely be lost in the desert wilderness, never to be found.


Bruce Colburn - Disturbing deaths in U.S. national parks

Bruce Colburn, Disappeared October 9th, 2008, Body Found October 29th 2008, Kintla Lake, Glacier National park.

Bruce  Colburn, 53, came  to Glacier  National  Park  in the fall of 2008 from Reading, Pennsylvania for an apparent wilderness adventure. He was until this trip,  president and CEO of Kadent Corp, a bill collection service company for hospitals and health clinics.

He told his family he would be gone for anywhere from a week to a month. It was late in the hiking season, so the park was quiet at that time of the year. He flew into Glacier Park International Airport on October 7, spent the night in a hotel, and got a ride to the park from a hotel employee to Glacier’s North Fork area. Colburn told the employee that he would be in contact in around 2 weeks when he returned from the hike.

On October 8th Bruce told a park ranger he planned to hike into the wilderness and the ranger reported that Bruce had brand new equipment including a backpack and tent.

Glacier national park

The  ranger told Colburn that  he needed  a permit  to camp overnight  in the backcountry,  but he seemingly wanted to avoid paperwork and he spent the night where he did not need a permit at the Kintla Lake Campground.

Kintla Lake glacier national park

The next morning, on October 9, Bruce headed out along Kintla Lake and that was the last time he was seen alive. On October 23, park officials were contacted by the hotel employee that had given Colburn a ride to the park on October 8 that they were concerned about his welfare. An initial aerial and ground search were conducted on Sunday, October 26th by park personnel who hiked and searched trail corridors around Kintla Lake, including the Bowman Lake drainage, and the trail system leading to Goat Haunt; however no clues or evidence were found.  More than 30 people were involved in the search including NPS personnel, U.S. Border Patrol agents, Flathead County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue personnel and the FBI.

Kintla Lake glacier national park

A subsequent search over the following days by Park Rangers searching the ground near the head of Kintla Lake, in the park’s remote northwest corner, found a pack matching the description of Colburn’s pack (greyish in colour) in thick forest on October 29th. An aerial search using a Minuteman Helicopter was started and Colburn’s body was found within minutes at around 5pm, on a slope above the trail from where this pack was found about a quarter-mile south of the head of the lake, in a brush-choked avalanche chute. It appeared that he had left the Kintla Lake trail and scrambled upslope to a point approximately one quarter to one-third of a mile above the lake.

According to the Flathead County Coroner’s Office, the death was considered a suicide caused by a self-inflicted single gunshot wound to the chest. It became apparent that Bruce had been let go from Kadent Corp. and was unemployed when he arrived in the Glacier Park area. Family members had informed park authorities that Colburn was carrying a .40-caliber Beretta handgun, which was found at the scene.

A disturbing death in a beautiful spot in the Glacier National Park. Was it a simple case of depression and suicide caused by Bruce's firing from his CEO role or something more sinister? Another sad story in a U.S. national park.

Yi-Jien Hwa - Strange deaths in U.S. national parks

Yi-Jien Hwa glacier park

Yi-Jien Hwa, Disappeared August 11th 2008, Body Found July 3, 2011, Glacier National Park, Rocky Mountains, Montana

Malaysian, Yi-Jien Hwa,  aged 27, was a graduate student at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He loved the wilderness and wrote content on the website, about his experiences with various kinds of outdoor gear and his hikes.

Hwa had started backpacking as a teenager and he and his wife, Siu Yin, planned to embark together on the most ambitious hike to date. This would be a dangerous 96 mile trek across Glacier National Park.

Glacier National Park is a 1,583 sq. mile wilderness area in Montana's Rocky Mountains, with glacier-carved peaks and valleys running to the Canadian border. It's crossed by the mountainous Going-to-the-Sun Road. Among more than 700 miles of hiking trails, it has a route to photogenic Hidden Lake. It has diverse wildlife ranges from mountain goats to grizzly bears.

The couple would begin their eight day trip at  St. Mary, then across extremely difficult terrain south of Logan Pass, and then north in the direction of Kintla Lake Campground.

Hidden lake by logan pass

However, just before they were to begin this trip in the summer of 2008, an unexpected family emergency forced Siu Yin to abandon the hike. After months of planning Hwa decided he would go anyway despite the obvious risks of a solo hike. His hike would include a risk of hypothermia, animal attack by mountain lions and bears, altitude sickness due to a climb up to 14,000 feet, water and weather.

logan pass, glacier national park

When Hwa arrived at the park at the St. Mary Visitor Center for a backcountry permit, rangers were extremely concerned. Beginning at Logan Pass on August 11th, where he left his car, he would begin with a long hike to Sperry Campground, then through Floral Park and the Sperry Glacier basin. On his second day he would trek towards Reynolds Creek Campground, northwest of St. Mary Lake, and pick up supplies at Logan Pass. His third night would be spent in Granite Park Campground,  seven miles or so from Logan Pass, and then on to 50 Mountain Campground at the Continental Divide for his fourth night, Kootenai Lakes was his fifth-night destination, and a day's hiking from there would take him to Hole in the Wall Campground. Hwa planned to reach the Upper Kintla Lake Campground on his sixth night and continue north from there to the Kintla Lake trailhead, a final hike of 11.6 miles. He planned to finish on August 18, 2008.

The rangers at St. Mary tried to talk him out of the trip, but Hwa refused to listen to the advice after all the planning and preparation and they reluctantly issued the permit. Park spokeswoman Norma Sosa said in early September 2008  “Even for a seasoned mountaineer, this is an extremely hard and dangerous itinerary," she said. “The biggest red flag was that he was a solo hiker. This is not a hike we would advise to attempt solo.”

On the first day of Hwa's hike he descended into Floral Park, an area of grassy slopes and wild flowers in Spring, between Logan Pass and Sperry Chalet which follows the comparatively easy Hidden Lake Trail for three miles, passes near the southern edge of Bearhat Mountain, and then climbs above the lake and almost immediately drops into a basin. Crossing the basin leads to a gentle route up to the Sperry Glacier and then onto Comeau Pass. A short distance to the right, hikers reach the top of a high ridge with a view of Avalanche Lake some four thousand feet below. From here the downhill route to Mary Baker Lake leads into Floral Park.

In fact, the hike on the 1st day was so steep and challenging, that there was a very low chance of even meeting anyone else.  The day's efforts were even more extreme as  Floral Park would not be a final destination and Hwa's plan needed him to reach Sperry Campground, which was several miles more of difficult hiking beyond the meadows in rock and boulder strewn terrain. The area was also full of ice and crevasses, loose scree, steep slopes, fast flowing and freezing streams. 

A week later, Hwa's family notified rangers that he had not called them on the appointed day to tell them he was at Kintla Lake Camp. What happened to Hwa on that first day on the route to Floral Park? Hwa could have fallen into a crevice in a snowfield, become concealed by overgrowth by a fall or fallen into the numerous fast flowing streams. He might have crawled into a hole or under an overhang for shelter, making him invisible to helicopters searching for his body. Any fall from a cliff might have dislodged enough loose rock to conceal him.

Rangers found Hwa's car still parked at Logan Pass, fully loaded with the supplies he had planned to pick up after his second night in the park so he can never manage to complete the circuit back. Search and rescue teams interviewed every hiker to whom they had issued a backcountry pass to the Sperry Campground, and no one remembered meeting a solo hiker. 

Rangers believed that the highest probability was that he went in from Logan Pass and tried to make it to the Sperry Campground through the Floral Park, because he had expressed a high desire to go through Floral Park to those at St. Mary before he started his hike.

No human footprints were visible on the glacier's surface as three inches of new snow had fallen since the day Hwa might have passed through the area.

By the end of August,  more than 2,500 man hours had been spent searching, including helicopters, canine teams and horse back riders, but surprisingly with no luck as they were looking in a defined area due to the discovery of the car loaded with supplies. The choppers had FLIR, heat seeking equipment. 

On the seventh day just two search teams continued on the ground in the park, including one fifteen-member team with technical rope training, who focused on Sperry Glacier and the surrounding area. These searchers descended into the cracks and crevices in the area. Several veteran mountaineers said that if such an animal attack had happened, searchers would have found his walking poles, boots and at least part of his backpack

Park officials made the decision to end the full scale search, though they made a commitment to Hwa's family that they would continue to look into new leads and any evidence that came to light. The complete lack of clues made park officials question if Hwa had even hiked in the park as they had searched so thoroughly. They considered every possibility, including that Hwa might have headed north into Canada or been picked up by someone else and driven out of Glacier. But the team found no evidence of problems that Hwa might try to flee from.

Yi-Jien Hwa avalanche lake, glacier national park

But, nearly tree years later, on July 3, 2011, something was eventually located.

John Wagner and his son, Christopher, were on the headwall of Avalanche Lake as a possible route to Floral Park. They didn't succeed but as they climbed up a dry creek bed on the east side of the lake, John saw something he did not expect. He got closer and found the bits of color he spotted in the weeds to be a nylon strap and a pair of long underwear. He thought it odd that someone would leave or even lose clothing in a gully at this remote location, so he reported his find to Park rangers and took them to the area. They found bone fragments from the decomposed body and equipment that  Hwa  detailed on  his equipment  list when he applied for his backcountry permit. Rangers believed that this evidence was transported down the slope from the cliffs above by water and avalanches. 

Yi-Jien Hwa avalanche lake, glacier national park

The park sent the bone fragments to the National Missing Persons Program at the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification. There they were examined over a period of several months and on May 31, 2012, they announced that the bone fragments and clothing were indeed the remains of Yi-Jien Hwa. But it was impossible to tell the exact cause of death with so little remaining evidence.

A sad tale of a solo hiker probably succumbing to the terrain in this dangerous part of the Glacier National Park. But the cause of death remains a mystery on that first day of hiking around Avalanche Lake. A slip, rock fall or something more sinister? It was surprising that Hwa's body was never found much earlier after such a comprehensive search.

Morgan Heimer - Strange disappearances from U.S. national parks

Morgan Heimer, disappeared June 2nd 2015, River Mile 213 near Pumpkin Springs, Colorado river, Grand Canyon National Park

Morgan Heimer, disappeared Grand Canyon national park

Twenty-two year old, Morgan Heimer, was working as a commercial guide for Tour West, a rafting company. The group was on day six of an eight-day trip on the Colorado River when Heimer went missing.

tour west logo

He was last seen on Tuesday, June 2, at approximately 4 p.m., around River Mile 213 near Pumpkin Springs in the Grand Canyon National Park. He was reported missing at 7:26 p.m. on the same day by a member of the river trip following a swim in the river by the group. He was wearing a dark-coloured Astral personal flotation device, a blue plaid long sleeve shirt, a pair of Chaco flip-flop sandals, a maroon baseball cap, and brightly coloured shorts and carrying a purple water bottle.

Pumpkin Springs in the Grand Canyon National Park

The other trip leader was talking to some clients and Morgan was last seen standing at the river's edge and when the trip leader turned around, Morgan was gone, never to be seen again. Heimer was a keen outdoorsman with significant river guide experience.  Searchers said at the time "He definitely has the skills and ability to perform the job and be a person we have a high likelihood to find".

Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 07.00.24.pngPumpkin Springs in the Grand Canyon National Park

Park rangers and search and rescue teams extensively searched the river between River Miles 211-225 and on land stretching from River Mile 211-215 around Pumpkin Springs. They then extended the search area to Diamond Creek, 12 miles west of Pumpkin Springs. Fellow employees of the Tour West guide service, clients on that river trip and other river outfitters and their clients were interviewed.

Despite this extensive six day search, Morgan was never seen again and no evidence found. What happened on that day in June 2015? Did he accidentally fall into the Colorado River? Drowned and caught in a branch or under a rock? Did he wander off and get lost in the wilderness? Very strange indeed for this man who was leading the tour group and was seen by the water's edge one minute and then vanished the next. 

Thomas Heng - Disturbing deaths in U.S. national parks

Thomas Heng, body found July 25th 2012, Sequoia National Park, California

Thomas Heng, Sequoia National Park.

Thomas Heng, 31, from San Rafael, went hiking on Mount Langley (14,042 feet) in the Sequoia Kings Canyon National Park on Sunday, July 22nd, 2012 with three other friends from the Bay Area "Anything Active Hiking Club". The three of them had originally planned to climb the mountain the previous day, but changed their plans. Mt. Langley is about midway between Fresno and Death Valley in east-central California. The group spent the weekend of July 21-22 hiking up White Mountain Peak in Mono County on Saturday, camped overnight and then headed to Mt. Langley on Sunday.

Mount Langley California

For some reason Thomas decided to hike on a separate trail to the other two hikers, but he did sign the guest book at the top of the mountain. This was a little out of character, since Heng was an organiser for the group and always put effort into supporting other hikers. His companions reached the summit of Mt. Langley before him.

They waited until dark, but stormy weather made them turn back as Heng apparently continued on to the summit. No one panicked when he didn’t appear because there was a camp site nearby. However, no one at that campsite or in nearby Lone Pine, Calif., had seen Heng. 

His wife, Petra Heng, said her husband was an accomplished hiker, having climbed about eight of California's 14,000-foot peaks. Heng described himself as a San Francisco native who enjoys hiking, camping, climbing, running, snowboarding and mountaineering. His Facebook page describes his climbs on Mount Russell and Mount Carillon. He also posted about future climbs on Mount Rainier and Nevado Salkantay in Peru.

He was last seen alive at around 14,000 feet on Mt. Langley at 1pm.

The Inyo County Sheriff's Department notified Sequoia and Kings National Park that Thomas was missing at about 5:45 p.m. on Monday July 23rd. By noon Tuesday, 20 people were searching and one helicopter was deployed. An additional helicopter and related staff from Yosemite National Park also joined the search. 

Trained specialists from Montrose and Sierra Madre search and rescue teams were part of the search, in addition to: China Lake Mountain Rescue Group, Friends of Yosemite Search and Rescue, Inyo National Forest, Manzanar National Historic Site, Tulare County Sheriff's Department and Yosemite National Park. 

Old Army Pass area of the John Muir Wilderness

On July 25th, they found Heng's body in the Old Army Pass area of the John Muir Wilderness in Inyo National Forest at around 11,000 feet about 300 feet from a ledge. A positive identification was made at around 5 p.m.

Old Army Pass area of the John Muir Wilderness

The autopsy revealed he had died of “multiple traumatic fractures and hemorrhages due to a mountain hiking accident,” according to the Inyo County Deputy Coroner’s Investigator Jeff Mullenhour. He also said “We have no way of knowing where he was before he was found. We don’t know how far he fell. There was a ridge and ice in a crevasse above Heng’s body".

This story is a little strange. Given that Thomas was a group leader, why did he decide to climb to the peak of Mount Langley alone, on a separate trail to his two friends? Did he summit too late and in darkness stumbled over a cliff edge? Given he was so experienced, it would seem a stupid thing to do. Perhaps it was altitude sickness at over 14,000 feet which caused an irrational decision? The storm hitting the mountain would have also had an impact on descending at speed.