Fatalities at Arches, Zion a Cautionary Tale of Winter Recreation

Three hikers suffered a fall in Arches National Park on Friday, Nov. 29. A 65-year-old male and a 60-year-old female were killed as a result of their injuries, and a 30-year-old man was also injured at the scene.

The Grand County Sheriff’s Office released the following information on Friday about the fatalities:

“At approximately 7:30 a.m. [Friday] morning, three individuals fell into the lower bowl area below Delicate Arch resulting in the fatality of a 65-year-old man and a 60-year-old woman. The third individual, a 30-year-old man, was flown by Classic Air Medical to Moab Regional Hospital.”

The deceased individuals have since been identified as husband and wife Toshiaki and Etoko Amimoto from California, and the still unnamed 30-year-old male survivor was their son. 

Though investigations are still ongoing as to the cause of the fall, snowy and slick conditions had been prevalent in the area following the winter storms earlier in the week.

Arches National Park Chief Ranger Scott Brown said Friday that fatal falls at Delicate Arch aren’t common, but that inclement weather can make the trail tricky to maneuver.

Only eight days before the Arches incident, Zion National Park confirmed that a body found Thursday, Nov. 21 beneath Angels Landing was that of 19-year-old Savannah McTague. 

IMG_0277According to a news release from Zion, McTague had been out hiking on Angels Landing with two colleagues late afternoon on Wednesday, Nov. 20. 

She was reported missing around 5:30 p.m. by her colleagues who suspected she had fallen. Zion Park Rangers immediately began a search and rescue operation. 

At first light on [the following] morning, McTague’s body was found beneath Angels Landing. The injuries sustained were consistent with a high elevation fall. 

Zion National Park and Washington County Sheriff’s Office are investigating. More information may become available once the investigation is complete.

In an unfortunately quick succession, these fall-related deaths are a somber warning about the real danger of winter recreation in southern Utah.

The unique geology that makes up Utah’s national parks can also be a silent killer when combined with poor conditions like the kind seen during the week of Thanksgiving.

Towering sandstone pinnacles and deep, colorful valleys beckon explorers from all over, but even the most adventurous are susceptible to injury or harm if caution is neglected.

SAR Member Waiting for Helicopter
Grand County SAR waiting for helicopter

Some places are simply unsafe to traverse in rainy, snowy or icy conditions, no matter the perceived beauty or worth the trip may have.

Southern Utah’s terrain is rugged and treacherous and Search and Rescue is called out on a frequent basis to scenes of accidents only to bring back bodies. All because of errors as simple as tripping, slipping, or losing balance.

A little foresight goes a long way towards safe outdoor recreation during the winter months.

Information concerning trail conditions and active alerts are available at ranger stations, visitors centers, and online on each park’s nps.gov web page. 

These updates combined with knowledgeable preparations and the wisdom to say no when precarious conditions arise may be the difference between life and death.

Story by: Reyce Knutson
Photos by: Jacob W. Frank and Courtesy Grand County SAR Photo Gallery