With the allure of cooler temperatures and a holiday weekend coming, staff at Death Valley National Park are asking visitors to remain aware of the inherent dangers of the heat of the park and its beautiful landscapes that can be dangerous distractions.
Park officials are using one recent day in Death Valley, which saw the rescue of two different parties, as a reminder of dangers facing visitors.
As park personnel and law enforcement were responding to a tour bus that had gone off the road on Tuesday, Sept. 28, a hiker showed up on the scene to report his companion was suffering from heat exhaustion.
A press release from Death Valley National Park states that at 3 p.m., park rangers responded to a report of a bus accident with injuries approximately nine miles south of State Route 190 on Badwater Road, State Route 178. The tour bus was transporting a group of elderly French nationals.
While the incident is still under investigation, it is believed that the bus driver had been distracted or experienced some type of medical episode, perhaps a stroke, that caused the vehicle to drift off the road, then back and forth across both road shoulders. The bus suffered damage to the lower front end and undercarriage, before the vehicle came to a stop.
The jostling off the bus caused injuries to the driver, the tour guide and six other passengers. The driver, guide and two passengers were airlifted to University Medical Center in Las Vegas using helicopters from Mercy Air and the California Highway Patrol. Four other passengers were evacuated to Las Vegas hospitals by ground ambulances from Nye County, Nev. The uninjured passengers were picked up by a separate tour bus from another company and were transported to Furnace Creek Ranch Resort where they were provided a meal and sheltered at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center until another bus picked them up at 11 p.m.
The CHP is leading the investigation into the accident and there is no status on the patients available at this time.
According to park officials, single-car accidents are the most common in Death Valley due primarily to driver distraction and then over-correcting when they have driven off the edge of the roadway.
While this incident was in progress, rangers were notified of a search and rescue incident in progress involving two men who were attempting a hike from Badwater to Mount Whitney, west of Lone Pine. It was reported that the two were told repeatedly by park rangers not to attempt to cross the valley floor, but did not heed the warnings.
The two got as far as Hanaupah Canyon in the Panamint Range. This is the first range directly west of Badwater. At this point the two decided to discontinue the hike. They hiked back to Shorty’s Well at the base of the eastern edge of the Panamints when one of the men began exhibiting signs of distress and couldn’t go farther.
His companion hiked back across the salt flat to their vehicle at the Badwater parking lot and drove to the scene of the bus crash emergency, reporting the incident to the rangers there.
Because the park staff was handling the bus crash victims, the China Lake Naval Air Station SAR helicopter and crew was dispatched to assist the hikers. They found the victim and transported him to the Furnace Creek Airport where he was evaluated by a team of ranger-EMTs. He appeared to be exhausted and suffering from minor dehydration, but was otherwise uninjured and released. Temperature in the shade that afternoon was 111 degrees.
“Both incidents were handled professionally and expeditiously due to the cooperation of park staff and neighboring agencies and partners,” said a Death Valley National Park spokesperson. “The park would like to thank the CHP, Amargosa Valley and Beatty Ambulance volunteers from Nye County, Mercy Air, Furnace Creek Ranch Fire Department personnel and China Lake Naval Air Station VX31 SAR Team and helicopter.”
For information on how to safely visit Death Valley National Park, visit the park’s Web site at www.nps.gov/deva .