A 71-year-old man died Tuesday afternoon at the start of a trail in Death Valley National Park as temperatures soared to 121°F, the National Park Service (NPS) said in a statement.
The man, identified as Steve Curry by the Inyo County coroner, collapsed outside a Golden Canyon restroom, according to the NPS. He wore a sun hat and hiking clothes and carried a backpack. His car was in the parking lot.
The NPS, in its statement, said other park visitors called 911 at 3:40 p.m. when they saw the man collapse. Park rangers arrived on the scene within minutes, performed CPR and used an automated external defibrillator (AED) to resuscitate the man, but were unable to resuscitate him. A helicopter could not intervene due to the high temperature.
Although the cause of death has yet to be identified, park rangers suspect heat was a factor. The official temperature at nearby Furnace Creek was 121°F at the time of the man’s death. Actual temperatures inside Golden Canyon were likely much higher, due to the canyon walls radiating heat from the sun, the NPS said.
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Hours before his death, the Los Angeles Times interviewed Curry at Zabriskie Point, where he had hiked from Golden Canyon – a distance of about two miles.
He was also photographed covered in sunscreen, using a metal interpretive panel as a shade.
Death Valley Heat Advisory
Park officials and authorities have encouraged people to plan safe visits to Death Valley this summer by driving short distances in air-conditioned cars or hiking in the park’s cooler mountains. They also advised against hiking at low elevations after 10:00 a.m.
The NPS also said this may be the second heat-related death in Death Valley this summer. A 65-year-old man died on July 3.
Death Valley has seen 28 days of temperatures above 110 degrees this year, according to the National Weather Service.
While the hottest temperature a human can survive depends on conditions, UCLA climate researcher Chad Thackeray told USA Today that exposure to wet bulb temperatures of 95°F or higher for at least 6 hours is widely believed to be the threshold for human survival. Wet bulb temperature refers to the metric used to express the combined impacts of temperature and humidity extremes.
A human body experiences heatstroke when the core body temperature exceeds 104 degrees. Signs of heatstroke include:
- A throbbing headache
- Vertigo and dizziness
- Lack of perspiration despite the heat
- Red, hot and dry skin
- muscle weakness or cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat (strong or weak)
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering
Authorities have advised people, especially those venturing outdoors, to drink plenty of water and avoid hiking. In the event of heat-related illness, they urge people to get to a cool place and seek help immediately.
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More than 100 million people in 15 states were on heat alert Wednesday, and about 80 million — nearly a quarter of the population — are expected to see air temperatures or heat index above 105 degrees over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.