During one of the deadliest days of weather in Utah’s history this week, seven wilderness explorers, including six from Southern California, were killed in a flash flood that turned a narrow canyon in Zion National Park into a deadly slurry that swept their bodies away.
Officials have identified the victims as Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Arthur, 58, and his wife, Linda Arthur, 57, both from Camarillo; Robin Brum, 53, of Camarillo; Mark MacKenzie, 56, of Valencia; Muku Reynolds, 59, of Chino; Gary Favela, 51, of Rancho Cucamonga; and Don Teichner, 55, of Nevada.
“Our heartfelt sympathies go out to those affected by the flash flooding in Keyhole Canyon,” Zion National Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said in a statement. “We have witnessed an incredible community of the family members and friends of the canyoneers come together to support one another. The canyoneers along with their families and friends are in our thoughts.”
The flooding at Keyhole Canyon came at roughly the same time late Monday afternoon that three adults and nine children were killed in an incident about 20 miles to the south, when a flash flood swept away their vehicles in Hildale, Utah. One child remains missing. Three children survived.
In Zion National Park, the hiking group had picked up their required permits for exploring Keyhole Canyon at 7:40 a.m. Monday. In a group photo taken before their hike, the visitors could be seen wearing the wetsuits, helmets and climbing gear that many other hikers also wear when exploring the popular canyon’s walls. As its name implies, the canyon in some places is as narrow as a human’s shoulders, its walls worn smooth by eons of flash floods cutting through rock.
Other hikers saw the group enter the canyon between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. -- more than an hour after the National Weather Service had issued a flash-flooding alert at 2:22 p.m.
By 3:30 p.m. the park had closed all canyons to canyoneers and broadcast the warnings over media and at the park’s stations, officials said. But park officials don’t have the staff to patrol and ensure that hikers have not entered the canyons, park spokeswoman Jin Prugsawan said.
It’s not clear whether the group had heard the warnings or had disregarded the notifications. In either case, by the time the heavy rain started falling about 4:30 p.m., it was probably too late.
In less than an hour, the area received 0.63 of an inch of rain. Canyon guide websites say it often takes two hours to travel through Keyhole Canyon.
It doesn’t take a lot of rain to flood the narrow slot canyon. After 5:30 p.m. Monday, the flow of water in the canyon turned from a trickle to a river, increasing from 55 cubic feet per second to 2,630 cubic feet per second in 15 minutes, park officials said.
“You can go from water up to your ankles to almost to the top of the canyon,” Prugsawan said. “A wall of water is what you’d see coming. It can happen really suddenly.”
A search team was launched Monday evening after hikers told rangers they had seen the group go into the canyons before the flood. The canyon was too dangerous to enter, but crew members found the group’s vehicle. Authorities relaunched their effort Tuesday, and by that afternoon, the bodies began to appear, carried miles apart by the rush of water.
Steve Arthur’s body was found in Clear Creek first, about 1:30 p.m. An hour later, Favela was found in Keyhole Canyon. Reynolds’ and Teichner’s bodies were found in Clear Creek’s and Pine Creek’s drainage, respectively, later that day.
On Wednesday, Brum’s and MacKenzie’s bodies were found in the Pine Creek drainage before noon. When the water subsided Thursday, officials found Linda Arthur’s body in Pine Creek Canyon.
Steve Arthur was a 21-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department and was assigned to the Camarillo Police Department as a traffic supervisor. He worked with local youths and “possessed a huge compassion for humanity,” the department said in statement.
Ventura County Sheriff Capt. John Reilly, who started his career with Arthur and has known him for 20 years, said Arthur and his wife were popular in the department.
“Everybody liked them. They were just involved in the community and did a lot of things together, especially hiking,” Reilly said. “Him and his wife enjoyed nature and getting away. He loved the Sierras and being outside.”
The Arthur family said that aside from their love for the outdoors, the couple “lived for their seven adoring grandchildren.”
On Friday, the Park Service released statements from some of the victims’ families. Favela’s family thanked everyone involved with the search and said canyoneering was his passion.
Reynolds’ family said she was a “beloved mother, grandmother and friend to many.” Like her friends, hiking was her passion, they said.
Brum was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend and mentor, her family said in a statement.
“She was supremely kind and a selfless person who cared for everyone around her. She leaves a hole in our hearts and lives that will never be filled. She will be sorely missed by all who were lucky enough to know her,” the family said.
Teichner was the founder of the Valencia Hiking Crew on meetup.com and was “a great hike leader and a great man,” the Pasadena Hiking Pacers, a community hiking group, said in a post on Facebook.
“His hikes were always interesting, never afraid to do some trail blazing, bushwhacking, or wading through water in search of adventure,” the post said.
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