PHOENIX—Two recent deaths in which men plummeted in the Grand Canyon follow dozens of apparently accidental fatal falls since the national park was established 100 years ago.
Michael Obritsch, of Santa Rosa, California, died April 3 after falling from the edge of the South Rim in Grand Canyon Village, near the Yavapai Geology Museum.
His body was found 400 feet below the rim, according to park officials.
A tourist from Macau, China, fell to his death on March 28. The man was at least 50 years old, park officials said.
The man was trying to take a photo at Grand Canyon West’s Eagle Point—close to the Skywalk located on the Hualapai Reservation outside the park—when he stumbled and fell, The Arizona Republic reported earlier this week.
Skywalk provides you with a view of the Grand Canyon you can't get anywhere else. It's an amazing experience to stand on…
The body of a Japanese tourist was found March 26 in a wooded area south of Grand Canyon Village, away from the rim.
All three deaths still were under investigation by the Investigative Services branch of the National Parks Service and the Coconino County Medical Examiner, according to park spokeswoman Vanessa Ceja-Cervantes.
No amount of signage, railings or even verbal warnings will be enough to end the falls, said Michael P. Ghiglieri, author of “Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon.”
Sixty-four fatal falls have been recorded in the park’s history, Ghiglieri said. Forty-nine of the victims were male and 15 female. Many deaths involve someone going around a guardrail to get closer to the edge or accidentally driving off the rim.
This number does not include any death that was ruled a suicide.
Park officials currently don’t plan to add increased railing or signage in light of the string of deaths, Ceja-Cervantes said. Ample signage is already commonplace in highly traveled areas of the canyon.
Only one person fell to his death in the park in 2018. Andrey Privin of Illinois died in July after he climbed over the railing at Mather Point, a popular viewpoint at the South Rim. Some visitors said they saw Privin throw his backpack over the railing and onto an intended landing spot before jumping. He fell 500 feet to his death.
About 12 people die each year within the park, Ceja-Cervantes said. The deaths can be attributed to everything from accidental falls, to heat-related deaths and drownings during rafting trips on the Colorado River.
Falls at Grand Canyon
Authors Tom Myers and Michael Ghiglieri said that as of 2012, about 685 people had died from falling into the Grand Canyon.
Ghiglieri noted that the 1980s actually saw more deaths than recent years but there has been a shift in what kills people.
“Over the last decade, proportionally more people have been dying from environmental problems—mainly heat—while hiking,” he told the Arizona Daily Sun.
“This is despite everything the park has tried to do via educational signs and via preventative search and rescue work, both of which are pretty good. There were also proportionally more people dying from falls within the canyon (as opposed to from the rims).”
Of the people that fall over the edge, most are young males, he said.
About 12 deaths happen each year at the Grand Canyon, park spokeswoman Kirby-Lynn Shedlowski reported on the Grand Canyon blog earlier this year. On average, two or three of the deaths are from falls over the rim.
Other causes of death include natural causes, medical problems, suicides, heat, drowning, and traffic crashes.
The blog recommends people stick to paved paths on the rim, watch children closely both at the rim and on trails, and be aware of the possibility of falling at all times.
The official Grand Canyon website states on viewing the canyon safely: “Stay at least six feet from the edge. Hold on to Children. Do not lean over or go past walkways and railings. Always be aware of your surroundings. Do not back up without first looking where you are going.”
NTD News reporter Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.