Story at a glance

  • The hiker embarked on a 12-mile round trip hike through the salt flats earlier this week but missed a scheduled flight home.
  • A California Highway Patrol helicopter crew found his body about 2 miles from the closest road in the park.
  • Officials said Branham likely started hiking either Sunday or Monday when temperatures in the region hit 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

A hiker from Washington state was found dead in Death Valley National Park this week as temperatures neared 120 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Authorities said Douglas Branham, 68, embarked on a 12-mile round trip hike through the salt flats of the California park but missed his Tuesday flight home to Tukwila, Wash. 

Family members learned his belongings were still in his hotel room and his vehicle was found in a parking lot by the National Park Service. 

On Wednesday afternoon, a California Highway Patrol helicopter crew found his body about 2 miles from the closest road in the park. 

But the triple-digit weather temporarily complicated  efforts to recover the man’s body. 


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“Helicopter rotors struggle to create enough lift in hot air, and temperatures were about 115°F 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 his body,” the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement

Officials said Branham likely started hiking either Sunday or Monday when temperatures in the region hit 118 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity of up to 91 percent. 

His cause of death is under investigation. 

Park rangers warned summer visitors to only hike before 10 a.m. or at high elevations. 

Death Valley, considered to be the hottest place on Earth, reported high temperatures of 130 degrees Fahrenheit earlier this month.


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Published on Jul 30, 2021