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Deaths in Grand Canyon chronicled

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OVER THE EDGE: DEATH IN THE GRAND CANYON, by Michael P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers; Puma Press; May 2001; 424 pages; $22.95.

"If you are a child, please keep a close eye on any adults near the edge. Adults have a tragic tendency to be careless or reckless. Dozens of them have died here due to a lack of adequate supervision by children."

This is the odd but pertinent warning the authors of "Over the Edge" suggest should be posted on signs along the rim of the Grand Canyon. For, according to their research, it is rarely children who are killed in America's second-most-visited national park, it is adults — and most of these tragedies are avoidable.

"Over the Edge" catalogs some 700 deaths in the canyon since 1869 — 550 of them below the rim. That's more fatalities than have occurred on Mount Everest.

The canyon — an "inverted mountain" — is subject to misguided public belief that it is safe, rather like a natural Disneyland. And the book does include a few amazing tales of survival, as of a long fall ending with safe landing on a bush. But most are of death, tragic and grisly.

The authors indicate that half of all falls from the rim were people who bypassed the safety barriers. A quarter of those killed were women. Also, of all the falls from the rim, only two were children trapped inside a car.

Regarding inner canyon fatalities, 70 percent were solo hikers and only 12 percent killed were females. At least 40 percent of inner canyon deaths were people taking shortcuts.

The worst year for fatalities at the Grand Canyon was 1986, when 50 died. That excludes a 1956 plane crash that killed 128. Twenty-six have died river running in the canyon, and 52 swimmers have drowned. There have also been 58 air crashes, killing 355 people.

Only one person has ever died while riding a mule up or down the canyon. He was a mule train employee crushed by one of the animals in a fall. (A mule nearly knocked me off a several-hundred-foot cliff during a 1984 hike. A friend saw what was happening and steadied me, thus keeping me from becoming another statistic in this book.)

The canyon has witnessed 23 murders and 42 suicides. Ten people have been killed in automobiles that have been driven off the rim. There have also been a few deaths by lightning, falling rocks or trees, explosions and unsafe diving.

The book is well-written and contains quick-read lists of deaths in the canyon. It's an intense book but one that could save many lives if people avoid the foolish mistakes others have made.

"There are no new accidents — only people having the same old accidents," Ken Phillips, search and rescue coordinator for Grand Canyon National Park, states in the book's introduction.


E-MAIL: lynn@desnews.com