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Missing hiker found dead in Death Valley

Extreme heat and humidity are believed to be the cause of death of a Washington State man hiking in Death Valley National Park.

As stated in an Inyo County Sheriff’s Office and Death Valley National Park joint news release, a California Highway Patrol helicopter crew found the man, identified as Douglas Branham, 68, of Tukwila, Washington, roughly two miles from the closest road in the park on July 28.

According to family members, Branham, who missed his scheduled flight back to Washington on July 27, planned to hike from Badwater to West Side Road and back, which is roughly a 12-mile round-trip hike across salt flats, the release stated.

“A family member called The Inn at Death Valley on the morning of July 28 and learned that Branham’s belongings were still in his hotel room,” according to the release. “National Park Service rangers found his vehicle at the Badwater parking lot.”

The release went on to state that CHP’s H-82 helicopter located Branham’s body at approximately 2:25 p.m. on July 28.

“The helicopter rotors struggled to create enough lift in the hot air, and temperatures were about 115°F at the time,” according to the release. “The helicopter landed at Furnace Creek airport to off-load equipment in order to lighten the helicopter before returning with a park ranger to recover Branham’s body. Mr. Branham likely started his hike on Sunday or Monday, when temperatures were up to 118°F, with humidity up to 91 percent.”

As the Inyo County Coroner’s Office is investigating the exact cause of Branham’s death, park rangers urge summer travelers to visit Death Valley safely by hiking only before 10 a.m., or at high elevations.

Officials also advise hikers to drink plenty of water, eat snacks, and if possible, remain close to an air-conditioned building or vehicle to cool down.

Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at sharris@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes

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