Alexander Lofgren, 32, an aide to Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), was pronounced dead and his girlfriend Emily Henkel, 27, was airlifted to a hospital on Thursday for medical treatment. The couple were found on a “very steep ledge” in a remote area of Death Valley National Park near Willlow Creek, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office said in a release.
Inyo County search and rescue team members located the pair on Wednesday via aerial reconnaissance, and after a failed hoist operation due to the “extreme location,” were able to reach them at around 11:40 a.m. local time Thursday.
Officials described the rescue as “highly technical.”
The couple had been reported as potentially missing after they failed to return to Helendale, California, on their due date of April 4.
Lofgren worked for Democratic Rep. Grijalva of Arizona’s 3rd District. According to Henkel’s LinkedIn profile, she works as a marketing coordinator for the Arizona Army National Guard.
“Words cannot begin to describe how heartbroken I am over the death of Alex Lofgren, a dedicated caseworker in my district office,” Grijalva said in a statement Friday. “Alex will forever be a part of our family, and my heart is with his family, his loving partner Emily, and his colleagues who mourn him today.”
“After serving our country in Afghanistan, he came home to Arizona to serve veterans right here in southern Arizona as a caseworker in my office,” he added. “The passion he dedicated to his work each day touched countless lives. No matter the situation, Alex met those he helped with a smiling face, a caring heart, and unrivaled empathy.”
The sheriff’s office said that an investigation will be conducted to determine the cause and manner of Lofgren’s death.
“This has been a tremendously difficult operation in a very unforgiving geographic area of Inyo County, I sincerely hope for healing and recovery for all involved,” Inyo County Sheriff Jeff Hollowell said in a statement.
The sheriff’s office described the couple as experienced campers, noting that Lofgren was believed to have jugs of water and at least one day’s worth of food, as well as camping gear. The 32-year-old was known for camping in remote areas that are not designated campgrounds.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) said on Twitter that Lofgren was her former intern and “an absolutely stellar young man.”
“He had a heart of gold and worked so hard for Arizona and our country. I’m sending so much love to his family and friends. May he rest in power,” Sinema said.