Two months ago, a family of hikers died on a California hiking trail. The Mariposa County Sheriff said that they died from hypothermia and dehydration.
Live Science reported that the bodies of John Gerrish and Ellen Chung, their 1-year old daughter Miju, and their 8-year old dog Oski were discovered on Aug. 17. They were located along the Savage Lundy Trail, near the Merced River, in the Sierra National Forest. Investigators were unable to immediately identify a cause of death as there were no obvious signs of trauma on their bodies.
Mariposa County Sheriff Jeremy Briese stated that heat-related deaths can be difficult to investigate at the press conference. The Mariposa County Sheriff's Department has been working with the FBI, toxicologists and environmental experts since the bodies were discovered. Investigators investigated many possibilities, including the possibility that toxic algae from the Merced River and fumes from nearby mines may have poisoned the family.
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Briese stated that there is no evidence that any family members have ingested the contaminated water, or that they used the nearby mines. Investigators have also ruled out suicide, gunshot wounds, and lightning strikes as possible causes of death.
Briese stated that the autopsy report, their timeline, the weather that weekend, their lack of shade, and the lack of water all point to hyperthermia as the cause of their death. "We are confident in our findings."
According to The National Institutes of Health, hyperthermia is when the body's temperature-regulating mechanisms are damaged by extreme outside temperatures. Briese stated that hyperthermia is when the body's temperature rises above 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41.1 degrees Celsius). This can lead to damage to the brain and other organs and can even cause death.
Oski, the dog who died on October 1, 2011, said that although it was not known what caused his death, evidence suggests that he suffered from heat-related problems.
They were found about 1.6 miles (2.6 km) from their car at head of an 8 mile (12.8 km) loop, which includes the Hite Cove trail as well as the Savage Lundy Trail. Investigators found an empty 85-ounce (22.5 liters), water bladder. However, they did not find any other containers or water filters. They also found snacks and some baby formula. It is not known if they died at the same time.
They hiked up steep inclines, with no shade at some points. Temperatures reached up to 109 F (43 C) on the trail. He said, "My message to you would be to be prepared if hiking." Weather conditions caused this "tragic and unfortunate event."
Original publication on Live Science