California hiker trapped in canyon in Zion National Park dies

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

A 34-year-old Southern California man was found dead over the weekend in Zion National Park after rising floodwaters trapped him in a narrow canyon that is home to one of the park's best-known hiking trails.

Douglas Yoshi Vo's body was found Sunday afternoon in the “Narrows,” a popular hike that entails walking in shallow water through a winding canyon with steep walls, National Park Service spokesman David Eaker said.

Vo, of Westminster, California, and his friend began hiking early Saturday when rains came and the river began rising rapidly, forcing them to take refuge on high ground. They ended up on opposite sides of the raging river and could not talk to one another because of the noise of the water, Eaker said.

The two waited until the afternoon, hoping the water level would lower and allow them to hike out.

Vo's friend swam the flooding river to safety, while Vo remained where he was, Eaker said. The friend's name wasn't made public.

He alerted park rangers Saturday evening about Vo, but rescuers determined the river was running too high to safely enter at night. Officials also thought Vo was in a safe place.

When rangers hiked into the canyon Sunday morning, Vo wasn't where he was the day before. His body was found about a quarter-mile downriver on a bank around 2 p.m. Sunday.

Authorities have not yet determined a cause of death.

“We don't know if decided to swim as well or if he fell in,” Eaker said.

Several people have died in the Narrows over the years, Eaker said, with the latest coming in 2010 when two people tried to build a makeshift raft and float down the river.

On Saturday, when Vo and his friend began their hike, there were flash flood warnings for the area surrounding the canyon. But, it's believed that rangers didn't put up warning signs at the trailhead until after the men started the hike.

It doesn't appear anybody else was in the canyon when the flooding started, Eaker said. It is unknown if the men were aware of the weather forecast, he said.

The water was flowing at about 46 cubic feet per second when the men started the hike. At the peak of the flooding, it was roaring at 4,000 cubic feet per second, Eaker said. The death highlights the dangers of hiking in canyons when storms are forecast, he said.

Zion National Park, in the southwest corner of Utah, is the state's most popular national park. Earlier this month, it was closed for several hours when heavy rain and a surging river made park routes impassable.

Heavy rain swamped much of Utah over the weekend, shutting down a sewage treatment plant, damaging homes and causing a moving car to plunge into a river.

In southern Utah, a man and woman from Italy were returning to their campsite at when the ground under the pavement gave way due to heavy flooding and sent their car into a river in Garfield County. They suffered extreme hypothermia and were taken to the hospital, where they are expected to make a full recovery, said sheriff's spokeswoman Cheryl Church said.

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