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San Jose State student drowns in Sequoia National Park during school trip

A 19-year-old San Jose State University student drowned in Sequoia National Park over the weekend while hiking and swimming with a group of fellow students and staff members, the university said Monday.  

William “Billy” Nguyen, a second-year kinesiology student from San Jose, was traveling as part of San Jose State’s Outdoor Adventures recreation program, San Jose State President Mary A. Papazian said in a statement that was sent to students, faculty and staff on Monday. 

Nguyen and other members of the group were swimming in Eagle Lake on Saturday afternoon when he “reportedly struggled and sank beneath the water’s surface,” Papazian wrote. The group tried unsuccessfully to rescue him. 

Just after 3 p.m., park dispatchers received a notification from a satellite GPS device operated by someone within the group that there had been an apparent drowning in the lake, which sits at about 10,000-feet elevation in the southern portion of the park, the National Park Service said in a statement

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Three rangers trekked a 3.5-mile, 2,500-foot elevation-gain trail to Eagle Lake, and a helicopter was deployed, according to the park service.

Rescuers were unable to find Nguyen that night. His body was recovered Sunday by rangers in snorkel gear, flown out of the park by helicopter and transferred to the Tulare County Coroner’s Office.

At least 16 members of the park staff assisted with search and recovery operations, officials said. 

Papazian said she and other staff members and counselors met the traveling party on campus Sunday evening.

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“As one would imagine,” she wrote, “they have been badly shaken by this tragedy. I assured them that the SJSU community is and will be here for them.”

Nguyen was a student assistant for Outdoor Adventures, a program that offers day-long and overnight experiences for San Jose State students, faculty and staff, including hiking, mountain biking and kayaking trips. Nguyen had completed a training course last year and was among five staff members on the Sequoia National Park trip, Papazian said. 

“He has been described to me as someone who, while sometimes reserved, loved group activities and wanted to inspire others to join in and be active,” Papazian said.

Papazian has spoken with Nguyen’s mother, she wrote, and is “heartbroken” for his family.

The university is offering counseling services for anyone who might need them, she wrote. 

The incident remains under investigation, according to the National Park Service.

In May, the body of a 53-year-old male hiker in Sequoia National Park was found by swift-water rescuers at the base of a waterfall after a group of hikers he had passed earlier on a trail spotted two water bottle lids at the top of the waterfall, according to the National Park Service.

The man appeared to have run out of water and was tired while trying to reach his potential campsite. While his death was water-related, he appeared to have initially fallen, officials said. 

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hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson

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