A California Highway Patrol (CHP) helicopter crew found a deceased hiker about two miles from the closest road in Death Valley National Park this past week, according to the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office and Death Valley National Park.
According to family members, Douglas Branham, 68, of Tukwila, Washington, planned to hike from Badwater to West Side Road and back on July 28, a 12-mile round-trip hike across salt flats. Branham missed a scheduled flight home to Tukwila, Washington, on Tuesday. A family member called The Inn at Death Valley Wednesday morning and learned that his belongings were still in his hotel room.
National Park Service rangers found his vehicle at Badwater parking lot.
CHP’s H-82 helicopter located his body around 2:25 p.m. Wednesday. Helicopter rotors struggled to create enough lift in hot air, and temperatures were about 115 degrees at the time. The helicopter landed at Furnace Creek airport to off-load equipment to lighten the helicopter before returning with a park ranger to recover the hiker’s body.
The Inyo County Coroner Office is investigating the cause of death. Branham likely started his hike on Sunday or Monday, when temperatures were up to 118 degrees, with humidity up to 91 percent.
Park rangers urge summer travelers to visit Death Valley safely by hiking only before 10 a.m. or at high elevations, drinking plenty of water, eating snacks, and by staying close to an air-conditioned building or vehicle to cool down in.