California officials have discovered the dead body of a Washington hiker in heat of 115 degrees Fahrenheit (F), after the man was believed to have been out walking while it was even hotter than that.
A California Highway Patrol (CHP) crew discovered the body of Douglas Branham, 68, approximately 2 miles from the nearest road in Death Valley National Park on Wednesday, according to a news release.
Family members told officials Branham had intended to hike from the Badwater drainage basin to West Side Road trail and back, which is a 12-mile round trip across salt flats.
Branham was due to fly home to Tukwila on July 27, but missed his flight. The next morning, a concerned family member called The Inn at Death Valley where he was staying and was told his belongings were still in his hotel room. His vehicle was discovered at the parking lot for Badwater.
The hiker is thought to have set off on Sunday or Monday in 118F heat and up to 91 percent humidity.
At about 2:25 p.m. on Wednesday, a CHP helicopter found Branham in Death Valley National Park. The temperature was around 115F at the time. The chopper landed at Furnace Creek airport, around 14 miles from Badwater Basin, to unload equipment and reduce its weight as it can be difficult for helicopters to lift off in hot weather.
Accompanied by a park ranger, the helicopter then returned to the area to collect Branham’s body.
Inyo County Coroner Office has launched an investigation into Branham’s death.
Park Issues Heat Warning
Inyo County Sheriff’s Office and the Death Valley National Park said in the joint press release: “Park rangers urge summer travelers to visit Death Valley safely by hiking only before 10am or at high elevations, drinking plenty of water, eating snacks, and by staying close to an air-conditioned building or vehicle to cool down in.”
Branham’s death came after Death Valley likely broke the all-time hottest temperature measured in Earth’s history for the second year in a row, reaching 130F on July 9, after hitting 129.9F in August 2020.
The potential record is awaiting verification by the World Meteorological Organization.
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