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Couple fell to their deaths at Yosemite while taking selfie, brother says

SAN FRANCISCO -- A married couple who fell to their deaths in Yosemite National Park last week while taking a selfie, the man's brother said Tuesday. Meenakshi Moorthy, 30, and her husband, Vishnu Viswanath, 29, were Indian expats living in California. 

She was a self-described "adrenaline junkie," and he took "wow-worthy photos" of the couple posing at the edge of cliffs and jumping from planes. Those pictures appeared on social media and a travel blog that attracted thousands of followers. 

The couple's latest trip turned out to be their last. They set up their tripod near a ledge at a scenic overlook in the California park, Viswanath's brother, Jishnu Viswanath, told The Associated Press. Visitors saw the camera the next morning and alerted park rangers, who "used high-powered binoculars to find them," he said.

Yosemite Deaths

This photo obtained from Facebook posted on June 26, 2017, shows a selfie of Vishnu Viswanath, right, and Meenakshi Moorthy at Skydive Santa Barbara.

Vishnu Viswanath/Facebook via AP

Rangers found their bodies about 800 feet below Taft Point, where visitors can walk to the edge of a vertigo-inducing granite ledge that offers spectacular views of the Yosemite Valley below. The recovery operation "involved Park Rangers using technical climbing and rappelling techniques, in addition to helicopter support from the California Highway Patrol for a short-haul operation," Yosemite National Park said last week in a statement. 

Their thrill-seeking social media posts foreshadow the couple's link to the growing problem of selfie deaths.

A study published this month in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care said 259 people had died taking selfies between October 2011 and November 2017. The report, based on findings from researchers in India who scoured worldwide media reports, said the main causes of selfie deaths were drowning, usually involving people being washed away by waves or falling from a boat, followed by people killed while posing in front of a moving train, deaths involving falls from high places or while taking pictures with dangerous animals. 

More than 10 people have died at Yosemite this year, some from natural causes and others from falls, park spokesman Scott Gediman said.   

Moorthy and Viswanath were born in India and had lived in the United States for a few years, most recently in the San Francisco Bay Area. Cisco India said Viswanath was a software engineer at the company's San Jose, California, headquarters in Silicon Valley.

They graduated in 2010 from the College of Engineering, Chengannur, in the Alapuzha district of India's Kerala state, one of their professors, Nisha Kuruvilla, told the AP. She said Moorthy and Viswanath were both good students who were fond of traveling and had married at a Hindu temple in Kerala in southern India four years ago.

Moorthy described her and her husband as "travel obsessed" on their blog, "Holidays & Happily Ever Afters," which was taken down Tuesday. It was filled with photos of the couple in front of snowy peaks and on romantic trips across Europe, where they took selfies from a gondola in Venice, at the Leaning Tower of Pisa and at the Vatican.

Moorthy wanted to work full time as a travel blogger, her brother-in-law said. She described herself in the blog as a "quirky free spirit" and "an ardent adrenaline junkie -- roller coasters and skydiving does not scare me." She posed at the edge of the Grand Canyon wearing a Wonder Woman costume, writing, "A lot of us including yours truly is a fan of daredevilry attempts of standing at the edge of cliffs -- and skyscrapers. But did you know that wind gust can be FATAL-? Is our life just worth one photo?" 

On the day the couple fell to their deaths, another couple who hiked to Taft Point captured pictures of Moorthy prior to her fall, saying she appeared in the background of two of their selfies. Sean Matteson said Moorthy stood out from the crowd enjoying sunset at the overlook because her hair was dyed bright pink. He said she made him a little nervous because she was close to the edge.

"She was very close to the edge, but it looked like she was enjoying herself," said Matteson of Oakland, California. "She gave me the willies. There aren't any railings. I was not about to get that close to the edge. But she seemed comfortable. She didn't seem like she was in distress or anything."

Yosemite spokeswoman Jamie Richards said officials were investigating the deaths, which could take several days.