July 29, 2009

Korean Visitor Dies Of Heat Exposure

Mesquite Dunes. (James Gordon)

Death Valley National Park
National Park News

The park received notification that several people were down with heat-related issues at the Mesquite Dunes area near Stove Pipe Wells on the afternoon of Sunday, July 26th.

Rangers were on scene within minutes and found six people at their vehicle who were all displaying symptoms indicating varying degrees of heat exposure. All were South Korean nationals. They told the rangers that another member of their party had collapsed in the dunes and had been dragged into what scant shade was available.

Rangers John Fish, Jennifer Yeager, and maintenance worker Kit Oesterling, with assistance from one of the members of the party, located the woman under a creosote bush and determined that she had expired. She was identified as 52-year-old Sohee Koo. Koo and other members of her group were from a Buddhist monastery; they were traveling together, but not as part of a commercial tour group.

The ambient air temperature at the time was 123 degrees Fahrenheit, with ground temperatures approaching 140 degrees.

The Inyo County Sheriffs Office and the Inyo County coroner were advised of the situation and responded. Group members were triaged and treated at the scene by rangers. Two of them showed symptoms of heat exposure, but refused further medical treatment.

Communications proved to be a challenge because only a few members of the group were able to speak English and cultural protocols required them to communicate through a group elder who did not speak English. Next of kin and South Korean consulate notifications were made by the Inyo County Sheriffs Office with assistance from district ranger John Fish.

Most of the rangers assigned to this mission had to be diverted to a vehicle fire at Towne Pass 13 miles west of the incident scene, leaving Fish and ranger Amber Nattrass to finish patient treatment, investigation and assist with the recovery of Koo’s body.

The Inyo County Sheriff’s Office is the lead agency in this investigation.