Zion officials confirm 6th canyoneer body found; 1 still missing

WASHINGTON COUNTY – Officials confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the bodies of six canyoneers swept away in a flash flood in Zion National Park Monday have been found. One remains missing.

Four bodies were found Tuesday afternoon. A fifth body was confirmed found by Washington County Emergency Services early Wednesday afternoon, followed by another body being found shortly thereafter.

The sixth body was found around 1 p.m. Wednesday, confirmed Alyssa Baltrus, chief of interpretation and visitor services for Zion National Park.

The seven canyoneers, a group of adults in their 40s and 50s, were in Keyhole Canyon Monday when the area was hit with .63 inches of rain between 4:30-5:50 p.m. The rainfall resulted in flash flooding in Keyhole and several other canyons.

“It’s just a small canyon on the east side of the park right off the main road,” Park Education Specialist David Eaker said, “one that’s usually done in a few hours time; it is technical – ropes involved … so you’d have to hike to it and then use ropes to rappel down.”

Zion National Park Ranger Aly Baltrus pointing to the location of the Keyhole Canyon during a press conference on the fatal flash flooding incident, Zion National Park, Utah, Spet. 16, 2015 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News
Zion National Park Ranger Aly Baltrus points to the location of Keyhole Canyon during a press conference on the fatal flash flooding incident, Zion National Park, Utah, Sept. 16, 2015 | Photo by Ric Wayman, St. George News

A park press release described the rappels as under 30 feet, noting that swimming several pools of water is also required to get through the canyon. A permit from the park is required to canyoneer Keyhole Canyon, which the group had acquired.

The flow of the North Fork of the Virgin River rose abruptly from 55 cubic feet per second to 2,630 CFS within 15 minutes. The park tends to get levels that high only once every three years, park officials said.

Around 5:30 p.m. Monday, another canyoneering group that had been through Keyhole Canyon just before the flood reported to park rangers that they had seen another group of seven canyoneers and believed they may have been caught in the flood, according to a press release from park officials.

Rangers located the group’s vehicles but did not see any sign of the canyoneers themselves. Keyhole Canyon was already flash flooding at that point, and due to weather conditions at the time park management held off on commencing search and rescue operations.

Around 9 p.m., park rangers checked on the canyoneers again. There was still no sign of the group. Search and rescue operations were initiated the following morning at 7 a.m.

The bodies of four of the group’s members were found Tuesday between 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Three of the bodies were found downstream from Keyhole Canyon, while the other body was found by a canyoneering group going through the canyon.

A member of a search and rescue team wades in to Virgin River during a search Wednesday in Zion National Park Seven hikers who entered a narrow desert canyon for a day of canyoneering became trapped when a flash flood filled the chasm with water, killing at least five of them in Zion National Park in southern Utah, officials said Wednesday, Zion National Park, Utah, Sept. 16, 2015 | AP Photo by Bowmer St. George News
A member of a search and rescue team wades into the Virgin River during a search Wednesday in Zion National Park. Seven hikers who entered a narrow desert canyon for a day of canyoneering became trapped when a flash flood filled the chasm with water, killing at least five of them in Zion National Park in southern Utah, officials said Wednesday, Zion National Park, Utah, Sept. 16, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Wednesday morning, the search continued with approximately 60 search and rescue personnel from Zion National Park, Springdale/Rockville fire and police departments, Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Washington County Search and Rescue.

Personnel will be doing a more in-depth search of Clear Creek, Pine Creek and the Virgin River. They will also search Keyhole Canyon and Pine Creek Canyon as weather conditions permit.

The park has not released the names of the victims or the missing hiker at this time.

The storm front that caused the flash flooding in Zion National Park also hit the Hildale-Colorado City area and triggered flooding there.

An immense flash flood in the twin communities washed away two vehicles – a large van and an SUV that contained 16 people between them – and has so far claimed the lives of 12 people. One individual, a 6-year-old boy, remains missing.

Three others managed to survive the incident.

So far, the storm-caused flooding has left 18 people dead.

St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic and reporter Ric Wayman contributed to this article.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

 

 

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2 Comments

  • fun bag September 16, 2015 at 6:46 pm

    ppl should not be in these slot canyons when any amount of rainfall is predicted. the canyons were carved out by flash floods so…

    • native born new mexican September 16, 2015 at 10:46 pm

      I agree with you.

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