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Body of man swept over fall is found

Park rangers and search-and-rescue teams continue to search for another man and woman who slipped over the edge of Vernal Fall with him.

August 07, 2011|Samantha Schaefer

The body of one of three hikers swept over Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park has been recovered by park rangers and a search-and-rescue team, authorities said Saturday.

Hormiz David's body was found about 1 p.m. Friday in the Merced River about 240 feet from the base of 317-foot-high Vernal Fall, where the 22-year-old Modesto man slipped over the edge with two friends July 19.

Still missing are Ramina Badal, 21, of Manteca and Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock.

The trio were with a church group hiking the park's popular Mist Trail to the top of the waterfall. Witnesses said they were among several members of the group who climbed over a metal barricade despite posted signs and repeated warnings from other hikers.

Every day for almost three weeks, search-and-rescue teams have combed a three-quarter-mile stretch of river between the Vernal Fall footbridge and the base of Vernal Fall, said Yosemite spokeswoman Kari Cob.

It is one of the Merced River's most rugged sections, with high water levels that initially prevented teams from approaching the river's steep bank.

The water level has receded since the hikers disappeared, with the rate of flow decreasing from 1,000 to about 500 cubic feet per second, Cobb said. This allowed teams to conduct a shoreline search and find David's body. At the time of the discovery, the Mist Trail was crowded with hikers. Park rangers closed the trail before a helicopter lowered rope, ladders and other equipment to search-and-rescue workers.

At the top of Vernal Fall, a crowd gathered to watch at the same railing the trio had climbed over before their fall. A cross made of two branches lashed together with yellow rope has been placed near the edge as a makeshift memorial.

As summer progresses and less snowmelt feeds into the water, teams will be able to search closer to the riverbank. Cobb said it will be safe for them to dive when the flow drops to about 60 cubic feet per second.

It took swift-water personnel about 4 1/2 hours to lift David's body out of the water with special rigging that stretched across the river. The Mist Trail at the top of Vernal Fall will be closed intermittently as the search for Badal and Yacoub continues, authorities said.

The Mist Trail is one of the most popular in the park. Water levels in the area are still high and park officials are warning visitors to exercise extreme caution.

"What visitors need to realize when they come to Yosemite is they're responsible for knowing the safety concerns in the area, and they need to make appropriate decisions to keep themselves safe," Cobb said.

This year marks the highest number of deaths in Yosemite in recent memory, which could be due to the high volume of visitors and fast-moving rivers that are swollen from an especially heavy snowpack.

A hiker fell to her death from Half Dome on July 31; two hikers drowned in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on June 29; and a hiker fell into the Merced River along the Mist Trail on May 13.

samantha.schaefer@latimes.com

Times staff writer Tony Barboza contributed to this report.

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