Grand Canyon Deaths

December 24, 2023 Legal Team

The Grand Canyon is a breathtaking natural wonder that attracts millions of visitors each year. With its awe-inspiring views and challenging terrain, it’s no wonder that the Grand Canyon is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. However, with its wonder comes a tragic reality – the Grand Canyon is also one of the most deadly national parks in the United States. In this article, Hastings & Hastings explores the dangers of the Grand Canyon, what causes deaths in the park, how many people have died there, and how visitors can stay safe.

Grand Canyon Deaths

Table of Contents

The Grand Canyon is a massive natural wonder that spans over 270 miles and is up to 18 miles wide in some areas. It’s a place of stunning beauty, with its towering red rock formations, deep canyons, and crystal-clear streams. However, with its size and rugged terrain, it’s no surprise that the park has its fair share of dangers. Every year, people die in the park due to a variety of reasons, including falls, dehydration, and other accidents.

Most of the data below, particularly the data up until 2018, comes from authors Tom Myers and Michael Ghiglieri in their book Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon.

How Many People Have Died at the Grand Canyon?

Around 900 people have died at the Grand Canyon since the 1800’s. The Grand Canyon was officially established as a National Park on February 26, 1919.

How Many Grand Canyon Deaths Happen Per Year?

An average of 12 deaths happen at the Grand Canyon every year. The odds of dying from falling off the rim in the Grand Canyon are 1 in 1.8 million visitors. 

There are roughly 5 million visitors at the Grand Canyon every year, and on average two to three deaths per year are from accidental falls over the rim, according to park spokeswoman Kirby-Lynn Shedlowski.

The deadliest time at the Grand Canyon was during the 1980’s. In the 2000’s, however, deaths from environmental factors like the heat have increased.

How Do People Die at the Grand Canyon?

The book mentioned above, Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon, contains all of the Grand Canyon fatality data through 2017. Based on that information, here are the causes of death starting with the most common.

How Do People Die at the Grand Canyon? - Inforgraphic

Airplane and Helicopter Deaths at the Grand Canyon: 379

Even if you disregard the major airplane crash from 1956 that killed 128 people, dying in the air over the Grand Canyon is still the most common cause of death.

1956 Airplane Crash

In 1956, two commercial airplanes collided in mid-air over the canyon. Everyone on both planes died, which was 128 people total. Both planes were carrying passengers from California to the midwest, but at the time there was no Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), so the pilots were managing their own flight path. Both got permission to fly over the Grand Canyon, presumably for the scenery, but failed to communicate with each other. This horrific event is what led to the creation of the FAA.

1986 Helicopter Crash

Then, somehow, another major crash happened in 1986. This time an airplane and a helicopter collided while on sight-seeing tours, and all 25 people aboard died. It was not determined why they pilots did not “see and avoid” each other, but investigations determined that too many tours were flying over the same scenic parts of the canyon at once. To date, this is the deadliest helicopter accident in the United States.

Hundreds of thousands of people take helicopter or airplane tours over the Grand Canyon every year. There are actually two flights per minute at the Grand Canyon on average. Turbulence is frequent on these flights, because the hot air in the canyon mixes with the cooler air from the plateaus above and creates a lot of wind. Additionally, a lot of these crashes occur with tour companies, and those pilots can be inexperienced. The National Park Service hasn’t had an aerial accident in over 40 years. 

Falling Deaths at the Grand Canyon: 198

This is probably the most commonly asked question: How many people have died while taking a selfie at the Grand Canyon? While that exact answer is hard to know, we do know the breakdown of where people have fallen from:

  • 60 people have fallen off the ledge
  • 63 people have fallen from inside the canyon
  • 75 people in this category purposefully jumped or fell to commit suicide

If we ignore the suicides, only 123 people have accidentally fallen to their death at the Grand Canyon, making it almost a tie with environmental deaths.

Environmental Deaths at the Grand Canyon: 124

Environmental factors are a common cause of fatalities at the Grand Canyon.

Dehydration & Overhydration

Temperatures in the Grand Canyon can reach extreme highs, especially in the summer. Many hikers are not prepared for just how hot it can get – up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit at the bottom of the canyon. Most environmental deaths happen from dehydration which can lead to cardiac arrest. Around 100 people have died this way.

Additionally, some people have died from drinking too much water. People get worried about staying hydrated and consume lots of water without eating enough food, making sodium in the blood drop to dangerously low levels.

Starvation

Others have died from starvation after getting lost in the canyon. These numbers are hard to pin down, especially because there are still bodies in the canyon that have yet to be discovered. Evidence of these types of deaths have been confirmed by skeletons found, and by notes left behind such as, “4 days without food or water. Lost.”

Freezing

Another environmental cause of death is freezing. At high elevations there can be snow in the winter, and many hikers are not prepared for a snowstorm.

Flash Floods

Flash floods are another environmental event that have been known to cause fatalities. Because the Grand Canyon is in the desert, there is not much vegetation to soak up water. This means that when it does rain, water flows quickly across the soil, causing flash floods in the side canyons.

Lightning

In 1997, two people drowned in a flash flood, and one hour later, another two visitors were struck by lightning. They survived, but lightning does strike an average of 25,000 times per year at the Grand Canyon.

Drowning Deaths at the Grand Canyon: ~100

There are many water activities enjoyed in the Colorado River including boating, river rafting, swimming, and waterfall excursions. However, many people underestimate just how rapid the river is. Some people died trying to cross the river, back before bridges were built for that purpose. Others have taken a soak to cool off in the summer heat, only to be swept away.

The most famous drowning was in 1928. Newlyweds Bessie and Glen Hyde were rafting down the river, attempting to establish the fastest time through the canyon. Bessie also would have become the first woman to raft through the canyon. However, they never made it, and their bodies were never found. Rumors have spread that Bessie actually survived and had purposely staged the incident to kill her husband, but to this day it remains an unsolved mystery.

Murder at the Grand Canyon: 39

The Grand Canyon is unfortunately a convenient place to murder someone and stage it as an accident. In 1993, serial killer Robert Spangler took his third wife to the Grand Canyon and pushed her off a 160 foot cliff. The death was ruled an accident at the time, but Spangler later confessed.

Another example is newlyweds Michael and Charlotte Sherman, who were found shot dead in 1977. Their bodies were found in a heavily wooded area of the Grand Canyon National Park, and it appeared to be a robbery had gone wrong.

Other people have gone missing in the Grand Canyon, and in some of these cases murder is strongly suspected. Human remains have been found in the canyon, but they cannot always be identified and properly linked to a missing person.

Suicide at the Grand Canyon: 91

People have committed suicide at the Grand Canyon in a number of ways. As mentioned above, 75 people have jumped to their death. Another 13 people have taken their own lives by driving off the edge of the canyon. Three of these happened in 1993, not long after the movie Thelma & Louise premiered. This movie depicts the protagonists driving off the edge of a cliff at the end of the movie, and as with anything, there were copycats. Others have jumped off a bridge, jumped out of a helicopter, or used a gun.

Car Accidents at the Grand Canyon

Although we don’t have as much data on them, serious car accidents happen at the Grand Canyon. Back in 2014 there was a fatal accident when two cars crashed on South Entrance Road, around 3 miles from the park’s South Entrance Station. Then in 2022, a woman suffered fatal injuries when she crashed into a tree, also near the South Entrance Station. And as recently as February 2023, two nurses visiting from the U.K. died in a car accident while on vacation at the Grand Canyon.

Chart: Grand Canyon Fatalities By Year (2001-2022)

The following numbers are from the National Park Service. Data before 2001 was incomplete, so only complete data is included.

Grand Canyon Fatalities By Year - Graph

Recent Deaths at the Grand Canyon (2018-2023)

While the data above paints a strong picture of death at the Grand Canyon, it only provides data through 2017. There is no confirmed list of every fatality in recent years, but below is a list of incidents pulled from the National Park Service’s news releases. It is not a definitive list of every fatality in these years, but it paints a picture of the more recent causes of death.

2024 Grand Canyon Deaths

Thomas Robinson (58) died at the Grand Canyon in 2024. His body was found on May 10 in the Colorado River after he had set out on a makeshift raft and gone missing.

2023 Grand Canyon Deaths

As this analysis is being written in 2023, it’s too early to report on the number of fatalities in 2023. Here are the known deaths that have occurred so far:

  • 11/16/23: A 65-year-old man from Oracle was hiking from the South Rim to the river and back when he was found unresponsive. (James Handschy)
  • 9/9/23: A 55-year-old man from Virginia was attempting to hike from the South to North Rim in a single day when he collapsed and became unresponsive. (Ranjith Varma)
  • 8/1/23: One person died and over 50 others were injured when a bus rolled over at Grand Canyon West.
  • 7/2/23: A 57-year-old woman was doing an 8-mile hike when she fell unconscious and died from the extreme temperatures, which had reached over 100 degrees.
  • 6/5/23: A 33-year-old man died after falling 4,000 feet off the edge of the Sky Walk into the canyon at Grand Canyon West. The death was ruled a suicide.
  • 5/21/23: A 36-year-old woman from Indiana was attempting to do a day hike to the Colorado River when she collapsed on the trail.
  • 2/17/23: A 56-year-old man from Wisconsin was found dead on the Bright Angel Trail below Havasupai Gardens. He was attempting a day hike from the rim to the Colorado River and back.

2022 Grand Canyon Deaths

There were 11 fatalities at the Grand Canyon National Park in 2022. Here are nine of the incidents:

  • 12/3/22: A 54-year-old man died in a rappelling accident while canyoneering. This type of activity is normally done in a group due to the danger, but this man was on a solo trip. Park officials found his abandoned campsite and vehicle and began a search until they found his body. (Name Unknown)
  • 9/10/22: A 67-year-old man fell off a boat and into the Colorado River. Members of his group pulled him out of the water and began CPR but he could not be resuscitated. Four others on the boat sustained nonfatal injuries. (Ronald Vanderlugt)
  • 8/26/22: A 44-year-old man fell 200 feet from the rim west of the Bright Angel Point Trail on the North Rim. He was off trail when he accidentally fell off the edge. (Name Unknown)
  • 9/4/22: A 59-year-old woman from Arizona died hiking Thunder River Trail. She became disoriented and fell unconscious while on a multi-day backpacking trip. It was over 100 degrees out that day. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful. (Delvine Martinez)
  • 8/26/22: A 44-year-old man was allegedly off the trail when he accidentally slipped off the North Rim edge and fell to his death. His body was found 200 feet below near the Bright Angel Trail.
  • 6/11/22: A 47-year old woman from Chicago fell into the Colorado River during a commercial river trip. She was cooling off along Pipe Creek Beach, when she was caught by the current. (Sheetal Patel)
  • 6/2/22: A 41-year-old woman from Canada was found unresponsive on the Bright Angel Trail. Bystanders attempted CPR and were soon assisted by the National Park Service, but the hiker did not make it. It was 104 degrees out. (Melanie Goodine)
  • 4/4/22: A 34-year-old woman from Utah died after falling from a private boating trip. She fell 20 feet near the Ledges Camp along the Colorado River and sustained fatal injuries. She was on day six of her trip, and had hiked into the canyon to meet her group when she fell. People administered CPR but no luck. (Margaret Osswald)
  • 3/24/22: A 68-year-old woman from Colorado fell overboard while whitewater rafting, nine days into her trip. She fell near Hance Rapid in the Colorado River, and people pulled her out and attempted CPR. (Mary Kelley)

2021 Grand Canyon Deaths

In 2021 there were a total of 23 deaths. Here are some:

  • 12/21/21: The body of a 57-year-old man was found after he was reported overdue. He had been hiking in the area of Boucher Trail and was found 200 feet below. (Ralph Stoll)
  • 8/28/21: A 48-year-old man from Oregon was hiking when he fell 50 feet to his death. He was on a river trip in the Deer Creek Narrows when he fell, and it wasn’t until the next day when rescuers could recover his body. (David Colburn)
  • 8/23/21: A body was recovered that they suspect to be a missing 45-year-old hiker from Hungary who had been missing since July 19. (Gabor Berczi-Tomcsanyi)
  • 7/19/21: A 56-year-old man suffered some sort of medical emergency and the park center was called, told someone on the same trail didn’t have a pulse. He was returning from a trip to plateau point when he collapsed. CPR was performed but unsuccessful. (Name Unknown)
  • 7/14/21: A 44-year-old man became unresponsive and stopped at a rest house on the Bright Angel Trail during a multi-day hiking trip . The Grand Canyon Communications Center received a call that CPR was being done, but they could not resuscitate him. (Rodney Jason Hatfield)
  • 7/14/21: A 29-year-old woman from Michigan was one of many caught up in an unexpected flash flood. She and another individual were not found until the next day, and while the other was uninjured, she did not survive the flood. (Rebecca Copeland)
  • 6/22/21: A 60-year-old man from Illinois was found unresponsive while hiking out of the canyon on the South Kaibab Trail. CPR attempts were unsuccessful. (William Smith)
  • 6/20/21: A 53-year-old woman from Ohio was backpacking on the Tonto Train near Monument Creek when she became disoriented and then unconscious. The Grand Canyon Regional Communications Center was called about her heat illness, but they were unable to get to her in time. (Michelle Meder)
  • 6/14/21: A 59-year-old man from Colorado was on a private boating trip and had to be rescued from the river. He was unresponsive and CPR was performed but all resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful. (James Crocker)
  • 4/26/21: A 60-year-old woman died in a boating accident on the Colorado River near Kwagunt Rapid. A boat overturned injuring a few passengers and killing one.
  • Also at some point that summer, the remains of a 56-year-old man were found. He had been missing since 2015. (Scott Walsh)

2020 Grand Canyon Deaths

According to the National Park Service, there were 17 confirmed deaths at Grand Canyon National Park in 2020. Below are a select few incidents:

  • 12/15/20: A 23-year-old day hiker from Phoenix fell 80 feet off the South Kaibab Trail above the Black Bridge. He was found unresponsive. (Jaiquan Carter)
  • 7/3/20: A 59-year-old woman from Arizona fell from the rim west of Mather Point. She fell 100 feet below while hiking off trail and taking pictures with her family. She accidentally stepped off the ledge. (Maria Andrea Salgado Lopez)
  • 6/24/20: A 49-year-old woman was hiking into the canyon. Four miles down the South Kaibab Trail, she became disoriented and then stopped breathing. It is believed that the 114 degree heat caused her death. (Catherine Houe)

2019 Grand Canyon Deaths

In 2019 there were a total of 22 confirmed deaths, including the following:

  • 9/8/19: A 55-year-old man from the UK died while skydiving at the Grand Canyon in tandem with another man. The other man only suffered a broken leg, but Christopher was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead. (Christopher Swales)
  • 9/3/19: A 77-year-old man from Australia died while river rafting. He was swimming below a popular waterfall that has strong currents and sudden changes in depth. (Kenneth Reece)
  • 4/23/19: A 69-year-old woman fell from a rocky point west of the Pipe Creek Vista, South Rim. She fell approximately 200 feet below the rim. (Cynthia Ackley)
  • 4/3/19: A 67-year-old man from Hong Kong was taking a selfie and lost his footing near the Yavapai Geology Museum in Grand Canyon Village at the South Rim. He fell 400 feet. (Name Unknown)
  • 3/28/19: A 50-year-old man from Hong Kong was taking a selfie at Eagle Point overlook near the Skywalk in Grand Canyon West and fell to his death. (Name Unknown)
  • 3/26/19: A body was found in an undeveloped forested area at the park’s South Rim. (Name Unknown)

2018 Grand Canyon Deaths

In 2018 there were a total of 17 deaths at the Grand Canyon. Here are a few of the incidents:

  • 9/18/18: The bodies of a 22-year-old man and 25-year-old man were believed to have entered the park on this date, but as of October the park was still investigating the circumstances of their deaths. (Names Unknown)
  • 7/18/18: A 24-year-old man from Illinois died when he fell 500 feet near a park viewpoint on the South Rim. He climbed over a railing near Mather Point and lost his footing, according to reports. (Andrey Privin)
  • 2/10/18: A helicopter crashed in Quartermaster Canyon on Hualapai National lands, killing three people who were visiting from England. Four others were critically injured. (Becky Dobson, Jason Hill, Stuart Hill)

Table: Grand Canyon Deaths & Visitors (2008-2022)

Below are the number of fatalities and the number of park visitors, by year.

Year Fatalities Park Visitors (Millions)
2022 11 4.73
2021 23 4.53
2020 17 2.9
2019 22 5.97
2018 17 6.38
2017 17 6.25
2016 21 5.97
2015 16 5.52
2014 15 4.76
2013 13 4.56
2012 10 4.42
2011 11 4.3
2010 12 4.39
2009 15 4.35
2008 11 4.43

Unusual Grand Canyon Deaths

There are always going to be exceptions and odd incidents that go outside of the normal causes of death. For example, at least one person has died from eating poisonous plants they found in the Grand Canyon. Here are five more unusual fatalities that happened at the Grand Canyon.

  • Fear of Rattlesnakes: In 1933, a 43-year-old man died from a rattlesnake – but not by an attack. Cochrane was a prospector from California hiking down Snake Gulch ironically, and was terrified of snakes. So terrified that when a rattlesnake on the trail coiled up and made a partial strike, he leapt back in fear and died from heart failure. He was literally scared to death.
  • Horse and Mule Ride Deaths: Horse and mule rides are a popular activity at the grand canyon, but has anyone ever died on a ride? The answer is yes – two people have been crushed to death, one by a mule and one by a horse.
  • Rockfalls: It’s estimated that eight people have died in the Grand Canyon from rockfalls. One woman almost bled to death when a boulder rolled onto her tent and crushed her pelvis, but she was saved.
  • Cliff Diving: While drowning are not too uncommon, especially in the seemingly docile Havasu Creek, diving into that water is rare. Two people did attempt to dive from a height of nearly 200 feet, and one was killed when he smashed into the bottom of the 12-foot-deep water below.
  • Parachuting: Two others risked their luck when they parachuted off the edge of the Grand Canyon into the Little Colorado River Gorge in 1993. When the California men jumped, they were standing close enough that the chutes entangled, and they hit the rocks 900 feet below at high speed. One died and one survived.

Who is Most Likely to Die at the Grand Canyon?

The biggest demographic for dying at the grand canyon is being young and male.

Of the 55 people who have accidentally fallen from the rim of the canyon, 39 were male. Eight of those people were hopping from one rock to another or posing for pictures, including a 38-year-old father from Texas pretending to fall to scare his daughter, who then really did fall 400 feet to his death. This points to the idea that men might take bigger risks.

Grand Canyon Safety Tips

Safety Tips for the Grand Canyon

While the Grand Canyon can be a dangerous place, there are steps visitors can take to stay safe. Here are some tips for staying safe in the park:

Stay on Designated Trails

One of the easiest ways to stay safe in the Grand Canyon is to stay on designated trails. Venturing off-trail can be dangerous and can increase the risk of falling off unstable rocks or getting lost.

Bring Plenty of Water

As mentioned earlier, dehydration is a serious risk in the Grand Canyon. Visitors should bring plenty of water and drink regularly to stay hydrated. Be sure to eat some salty snacks with your water throughout the day; hikers perspire a lot which means they need electrolytes to replenish their sodium levels.

Dress Appropriately

Visitors to the Grand Canyon should dress appropriately for the weather and terrain. This may include wearing sturdy hiking shoes, a hat or visor, and sunscreen.

Check the Weather Forecast

Before venturing out into the park, visitors should always check the weather forecast. Flash floods, extreme heat, and other weather conditions can make hiking dangerous or even deadly.

Don’t Overexert Yourself

Hiking in the Grand Canyon can be physically demanding, and visitors should avoid overexerting themselves. Taking regular breaks and listening to your body is crucial to staying safe in the park. If you feel dizzy or disoriented, it’s important to stop, drink water, and find a shady place to rest.

Bring a Map and Compass

Visitors should always bring a map and compass with them when hiking in the Grand Canyon. GPS devices can be helpful, but they are not always reliable in the canyon’s rugged terrain.

Travel in Groups

Traveling in groups can help reduce the risk of accidents in the Grand Canyon. Hiking with a friend or joining a guided tour can be a great way to stay safe and learn more about the park.

Conclusion

The Grand Canyon is a natural wonder that offers visitors a chance to explore some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in the world. However, with its beauty comes danger: the Grand Canyon is also one of the most deadly national parks in the United States. By taking the necessary precautions, visitors can stay safe and enjoy all that the park has to offer.

If you have lost a loved one or have questions about wrongful death lawsuits, contact our firm today.

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