68-Year-Old Hiker Found Dead in Death Valley Amid Record-Setting Heat

by Shelby Scott

Amid record-setting temperatures, authorities discovered the dead body of 68-year-old hiker Douglas Branham on Wednesday in Death Valley, CA. Authorities aren’t sure how or when Branham died at this time.

According to the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office, they discovered the body two miles from the closest road in the national park. A California Highway Patrol helicopter crew spotted Branham’s body while flying over the area.

According to authorities investigating the case, Branham “set out on a planned 12-mile hike Sunday or Monday when the humidity hit an oppressive 91 percent and highs were a thermometer-shattering 118.” Investigations began after he missed a flight home to Washington state Tuesday. Additionally, investigators found all of his belongings in his hotel room the following day, according to the news release.

Later, park rangers found the man’s car in a Badwater parking lot. Authorities state he had started his hike there. The New York Post wrote, “It was so hot in the area that when the California Highway Patrol’s helicopter located the body, it couldn’t immediately pick up [Branham’s} remains.” According to the sheriff’s office, it is difficult for helicopter rotors to create enough lift in hot air. At the time the body was discovered, temperatures sat at about 115 [degrees]. The helicopter landed at Furnace Creek airport to unload some equipment and lighten the copter’s overall weight.

Death Valley is Consistently Seeing ‘Thermometer-Shattering’ Temperatures

Because of his age and current national park temperatures, Branham’s death is resultant of Death Valley’s unforgiving heat. Death Valley is one of the hottest locations found on the planet. Nevertheless, the 118-degree temperature that killed the 68-year-old man is lower than some of the highs the park has reached lately. On July 9, the desert valley saw temperatures of 130 degrees, just barely missing its all-time record-breaking heat. Just about a century ago, 1913, Death Valley reached an intensely hot 134 degrees. So it seems this year’s temperatures have been coming incredibly close.

Just three days later, Death Valley was setting more records internationally. The Washington Post stated temperatures overnight reached a low of 107.7 degrees. The article stated it is the highest temperature ever recorded in North America for a “low” temperature. Later, thermometers across Death Valley saw temperatures of 128.6. Together, they averaged a 24-hour record-breaking measurement of 118.1. Officials recorded the measurement in Death Valley’s Stovepipe Wells, on the park’s northern side.

Following Branham’s death alongside record-shattering temperatures, officials are regularly putting out warnings to the national park’s visitors. Once they recovered the man’s body, the release stated, “Park rangers urge summer travelers to visit Death Valley safely by hiking only before 10 am or at high elevations, drinking plenty of water, eating snacks, and by staying close to an air-conditioned building or vehicle to cool down in.”