February 26, 1919: The Grand Canyon National Park is Established


The Grand Canyon is a canyon carved by the Colorado River. It is 277 miles long, 19 miles wide and over a mile deep in some areas.

The area has been inhabited by Native Americans for thousands of years. The Pueblo people consider the canyon to be a holy site. And over 5 million tourists visit the Grand Canyon every single year.

Despite its breathtaking size and beauty, it has been the site for almost 800 deaths between the mid 1800s and 2020. And even though the Grand Canyon could be written about in so many different ways, I'm going to write about the deaths, instead. So strap in!


Between the years of 1869 and 2001, there were almost 500 deaths. 53 of them were from falls, 65 were from environmental factors like heat stroke or dehydration, 7 were from flash floods, 79 were from drowning, 242 were in airplane or helicopter crashes, 25 in freak accidents such as falling rocks or lightening, and 23 were murdered. (1)

According to Michael P. Ghiglieri, with a packed resume as an Arizona river guide, a Vietnam veteran, an ecology PhD, an emergency medical technician and the author of "Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon", a book about all of the known deaths at the canyon, air crashes are the most common way to die at the Grand Canyon. Air crashes have taken 379 victims total. (2)

128 of those deaths came from just one day. On the morning of June 30, 1956, the deadliest aviation disaster at the time took place over the Grand Canyon. 90 minutes after 2 planes took off from Los Angeles International Airport, both planes collided into the canyon, killing all 128 board and crew members on board. (1)

Of the 379 total victims, 259 died within the canyon and 120 died on the rims, most while trying to access or exit the airspace over the canyon. (2)

More than 100 helicopter flights go into the air each day to transport visitors over the canyon for the views, which is where the majority of the air-related deaths have taken place. Nearly 30 helicopters have crashed into the canyon since 1980. In 2001, a family from New York died when their helicopter crashed high into the mountains. In 2011, a tourist helicopter crashed killing the pilot and all 4 passengers. (3)

The second leading cause of death is falling, which adds up to about 125 of the total deaths. 64 of those deaths have occurred from falls off the rails, and 61 from falls within the canyon. The first recorded fall was Lewis Thompson in the 1920s who tripped while taking a photograph and fell to his death. (4)

In April of 2019, 4 people died from accidental falls in the same month, leading people to believe that safety was becoming a bigger concern than previously realized at the canyon, but spokespeople for the park said that the numbers were not beyond what they typically are, and there was no further cause for concern. (5)

That month, a 70-year-old woman fell 200 feet to her death after veering several feet of the trail. A Japanese tourist's body was found 2 days after that woman had fallen, and a few days after that, a Chinese tourist fell while trying to take a photo and stumbling. A 67-year-old California man was the final falling death of the month after plunging down 400 feet. (5)

Another falling death that often gets interpreted as an urban legend but is absolutely true is the death of Greg Gingrich. While at the canyon wit his daughter, he pretended to lose his balance and fall to scare his daughter, but when he "fake" fell, he lost his footing and fell 400 feet down. (4)

Another leading cause of death in the canyon is environmental factors, such as extreme heat or extreme cold. Unprepared hikers can die from what seems like a small mistake, such as not bringing enough water. (5)

The death of Margret Bradley was an unfortunate result of that. Bradley, a marathoner, went out for a 27-mile run with a partner while it was 120-degrees out. When her partner said he could not continue, she went on to get help. He was able to get out of the canyon, assuming she did the same, but she eventually died of dehydration, having not brought enough water for the run. (5)

Though the canyon is normally pictures as just the large rock formation, the Colorado River runs through it, which has taken the lives of over 100 people. Some fell out of rafts, some drowned trying to save other people from drowning, and some purposely jumped in to cool off or to go for a swim. (5)

In 2009, 16-year-old Saif Savaya wanted to complete an item on his bucket list: To swim across the Colorado River. He took 2 friends who were on his trip with him and jumped in. They were experienced swimmers, but did not use life jackets. The river swept them away, and they drowned. (5)

According to Ghiglieri, the most unusual death at the canyon was a man who was scared to death by a rattlesnake. Though nobody has ever died from a snakebite at the Grand Canyon (though people have been bitten), a rattlesnake crept up on a man who was terrified of snakes, and he jumped back and collapsed. He died of heart failure. (4)

Ghiglieri, in 2012, said that accidental falls and air crashes have decreased in recent years, but deaths from falls within the canyon, environmental factors, and suicides have increased. (4)

A man named Richard Clam waited days to get the shotgun seat in a sightseeing helicopter, and once they were high enough up, he opened the door and jumped to his death, 4,000 feet down, traumatizing all of the passengers and the 15 team members who gathered the various parts of his body. (4)

Another suicide was committed by Gheorghe Chirac, who drove his car over the edge of the canyon. (3)

Another was the case of a missing cherry-red plane flown by a single pilot in 2001 that was not discovered until 4 years later, the pilot now a skeleton in the cockpit. After an investigation, it was determined that he had crashed intentionally to end his life. (3)

Though not common, some 25 people have been murdered at the Grand Canyon. Robert Spangler attempted to commit "the perfect crime" back in 1993 when he pushed his 3rd wife off of the trail to her death. He later admitted that he did it, and he thought killing her was easier than going through a divorce. He also admitted to murdering his former wife and 2 of his children. (5)

In 2006, a Japanese tourist named Tomoni Hanamure, 34, was brutally murdered by a nam named Randy Redtail Wescogame. He saw her hiking alone and offered to guide her to some beautiful waterfalls. Instead, he robbed her, bludgeoned her and stabbed her. (3)


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Canyon

2. · https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/04/24/year-old-woman-fell-her-death-grand-canyon-fourth-fatality-there-month/

3. http://kidnappingmurderandmayhem.blogspot.com/2016/08/grand-canyon-nightmares-by-robert-a.html

4. · https://www.latimes.com/travel/la-xpm-2012-mar-19-la-trb-death-grand-canyon-20120315-story.html

5. · https://www.msn.com/en-us/travel/news/falls-heat-and-murder-whats-really-killing-people-at-the-grand-canyon/ar-BBVRg6h

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