3 dead after spate of tragic accidents at national parks

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(LOS ANGELES) — Three people died after a spate of tragic accidents at United States National Parks in June.

A stepfather and his stepson died on Friday following a tragic series of events, beginning with his younger stepson, 14, losing consciousness while hiking the Big Bend National Park’s Marufo Vega Trail in Texas.

The stepfather and his two stepsons were attempting the challenging hike while the area experienced temperatures upwards of 119 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a press release from the National Park Service.

“You can’t really carry enough water for these conditions,” Park Information Officer Tom VandenBerg said. “The sun doesn’t set until around 9:00 p.m., and the hottest time is between 5-7 p.m., right around when this incident happened.”

After his younger stepson, 14, lost consciousness, his stepfather departed the scene to retrieve his vehicle and search for help while his elder stepson, 21, attempted to carry his younger brother back to the trailhead, according to the release.

After realizing his brother no longer had a heartbeat, the older brother left his younger brother on the trail to search for help, according to VandenBerg. The 21-year-old hitchhiked and found help nearby, at a park employee’s home.

Meanwhile, their stepfather was able to reach his car but fatally crashed over a nearby embankment, according to the press release.

By 7:30 p.m., park rangers and U.S. border control agents reached the scene to find the teenager’s body. Approximately 30 minutes later, officials located the family’s car and the stepfather, who was pronounced dead at the car crash scene.

The incident came amid excessive heat warnings for the local area, including the Marufo trail, which lacks abundant sources of shade or water.

The older stepson has since been reunited with his remaining family in Florida, according to VandenBerg.

Over 2,000 miles northwest of Big Bend, officials in Washington’s Olympic National Park recovered the body on Wednesday of a New York man who was visiting in early June.

On June 9, 37-year-old Travis Valenti from Massapequa, New York, was kayaking with his fiancée when his kayak began to take on water, according to a National Park Service press release.

“As Mr. Valenti’s fiancée attempted rescue, her kayak overturned, resulting in her also entering the water,” the release noted. “She was able to swim to shore but unfortunately Mr. Valenti struggled and could not.”

On June 21, Christian Aid Ministries, which has run a volunteer search and rescue team since 2016, utilized a remote-operated vehicle to locate Valenti’s body 394 feet under the surface of Lake Crescent. The volunteers used a “grabber tool” to bring the body to the lake’s surface.

A press release from the National Park Service said that the lake is not only deep but maintains a cold body temperature of 50 degrees, which can eventually incapacitate swimmers’ ability to breathe.

The three deaths come as the National Park Service approaches a summer visitor surge. In 2022, the National Park Service received 312 million visitors, only 6 percent lower than the Park Service’s all-time record for visitors.

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