Falls, heat and murder: What’s really killing people at the Grand Canyon

The body of a 67-year-old California man was found 400 feet below the South Rim last week after he fell from the edge in the Grand Canyon Village.

A tour helicopter crashed in 2018, killing five near the West Rim of the Grand Canyon. 

A Texas doctor died from heat exhaustion after she separated from her children in search of water while hiking the canyon in 2017.

A California prospector with a severe fear of snakes was hiking down Snake Gulch Trail in 1933 when he encountered a rattlesnake. The snake rattled at the man and made a partial strike, causing the prospector to die of heart failure. 

These are just a few of the nearly 800 people — not counting those who died by suicide — who have died in the Grand Canyon. 

About 12 people die each year within Grand Canyon National Park, according to park spokeswoman Vanessa Ceja. The deaths can be attributed to everything from accidental falls to heat-related deaths to drownings during rafting trips on the Colorado River. 

The National Park Service doesn’t offer an aggregated count of deaths within the park. But Michael P. Ghiglieri, an Arizona river guide and co-author of “Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon,” has spent nearly two decades tracking the deaths that occurred inside the Canyon — both inside and outside the boundaries of the national park.

“Virtually every single one of these fatal events are preventable and didn’t have to happen,” Ghiglieri said. 

What’s the most common cause of death?

Over-flights have been the most common cause of death, according to Ghiglieri.

The canyon frequently saw crashes of both private and commercial planes and helicopters flying over the canyon to give passengers a view. In total, 275 people died in aerial crashes in the canyon.

In 1956, 128 people died when two planes collided midair over the park — making it the deadliest air crash on U.S. soil at the time. 

The number of over-flight deaths has dropped dramatically in recent years. The 2018 crash of a tour plane on the West Rim of the Grand Canyon marked the first air fatality in more than a decade. Three British tourists and their pilot died in the crash. Two other passengers died in the hospital days later. 

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