Yosemite accident brings 2011 death toll to 14
In this July 23, 2011 photo provided by the National Park Service, visitors are seen climbing Half Dome via cables in Yosemite National Park, Calif. / AP
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, California - A woman slipped to her death while descending Half Dome in the rain, the latest accident at Yosemite National Park in a year that is breaking records for the deadliest in recent history.
Fourteen people have died so far this year, including three who were swept over Vernal Fall two weeks ago while taking photographs upstream in the Merced River. In 2007, seven people were killed at the park, the most in any recent year until this one.
One factor in the high number of deaths is a record snowfall that has created treacherous snowmelt, swelling streams and rivers at a time of year when nature in Yosemite is supposed to be relatively tranquil.
For Haley LaFlamme, 26, it likely was the unseasonable rain that brewed on Sunday, when her group of four secured a rare permit to ascend the enormous, smooth granite dome, the park's iconic feature. They were among a group of about 20 hikers who were braving the trip to the summit despite the wet conditions, slippery granite and distant lightning and thunder.
The permits limit traffic on the popular 8.5-mile climb. LaFlamme was using the cables that park officials install during the hiking season to help with the steep and sometimes slippery footing up the final pitch of the granite dome.
At about 11 a.m. people in the park began to send messages on Twitter about a raging thunder storm with rain. At noon, Yosemite's emergency communication center received an emergency call reporting a hiker had fallen at the bottom of the cables, where the granite trail becomes less steep and the cables end. Cobb says LaFlamme fell 600 feet from the shoulder. She was dead at the scene.
Between 2006 and 2010, 38 people died in the park and 1,225 had to be rescued at a cost of more than $3 million. Nearly 4 million people visit the park every year.
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