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It was a sunny Easter Sunday morning at the Grand Canyon, and Robert Spangler and his wife Donna were climbing out after an overnight camping trip to Horseshoe Mesa.

The last time Spangler saw his wife of two years alive, he was setting up his camera and she was stopping to pose for "one last photograph.""She was not a very strong hiker," Spangler, 60, said this week from his home in Durango, Colo. "I don't know if she became unbalanced with her backpack or if she shuffled her feet or stepped on a rock that became loose. I turned around and she was gone."

Donna Spangler, 59, fell 100 to 200 feet to her death, the first of seven people killed falling accidentally into the canyon this year. While records are incomplete before 1989, only seven people died in falls in the four years from then through 1992 and Grand Canyon National Park employees say they can't remember a worse year for falls.

But park managers say the spate of deaths is a coincidence rather than some dangerous trend. There's no plan to add more railings or increase the already numerous warnings in signs and brochures about the danger inherent in peering over the edge of the mile-deep chasm, said park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge.

There also have been three suicides, one who jumped and two who drove cars into the canyon.

Park workers, environmentalists and people like Spangler who frequent the canyon say there's no way to fall-proof the 277-mile long park.

"The people who visit simply forget how spectacularly dangerous it can be," said Spangler, who's been hiking in the canyon for 14 years.

Tom Jensen, executive director of the environmental group Grand Canyon Trust, says the 4 million-plus visitors to the park each year must use common sense to avoid accidents.

"A lot of tourists approach the Grand Canyon like a ride at Disneyland or some other amusement park and think it's idiot-proof," Jensen said. "The Grand Canyon wasn't built by attorneys and engineers."

Safeguards at the canyon vary from spot to spot.

Lookout points with signs and parking lots typically have sidewalks and guard rails or walls.

For the more intrepid, there's ready access along much of the heavily visited South Rim.

A road parallels part of the rim near the Grand Canyon Village visitor center, and a 9-mile trail runs along the edge, a few steps from cliffs that plunge hundreds of feet toward the Colorado River. The trail ranges from bare dirt path along the lip of the canyon in less traveled areas to a sidewalk lined with stone walls in the Grand Canyon Village visitor center.

Six of the seven fatal falls this year have occurred since August, three of them in a span of four days in September.

Two were men who had climbed beyond guard rails - one of them a transient collecting coins from a ledge where tourists toss pennies and one a young man jumping between rock outcroppings. One man was drinking when he fell from a spot near a hiking trail.

"The one common thread from these incidents has been the complete lack of regard for personal safety," said Ken Miller, the park's chief ranger.

Warnings are issued in park brochures and on signs, many in the form of an international sign-style silhouette of a person falling down a cliff.

Any more signs could detract from the outdoor atmosphere already threatened by crowds expected to reach 4.5 million this year, park officials say. And some wonder if they'd make a difference.

"It's such an obvious hazard," Miller said. "There's no way you can look at the canyon and not feel threatened.

"It's not like you go up to the 15th floor of the Marriott Hotel down in Phoenix and get out on a ledge to have your picture taken."