Photo found after flooding reveals final image of 7 hikers
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Seven avid hikers in safety helmets, wetsuits and climbing harnesses smiled for a group photo before heading into the mouth of a narrow canyon in southern Utah's Zion National Park.
The 50-something men and women from California and Nevada posed with their arms around each other before trying to climb and swim through the popular sandstone gorge. Days later, rescuers searching for their bodies found a camera that revealed the final image of the group before they died.
Within hours of them entering Keyhole Canyon, dark skies unleashed fierce rains that sent water surging through the chasm, sweeping the seven to their deaths Monday.
Their bodies were found throughout the week, the last coming Thursday. It's the same day authorities recovered a 33-year-old man killed by flash flooding near the Utah-Arizona border, raising the death toll to 20 from the violent rainstorm.
At least 12 other people, including nine children, died in a nearby polygamous town when two cars were swept away. A 6-year-old boy was still missing.
Some of the seven hikers took a canyoneering skills course just before the excursion, park officials said. Others in the group were passionate about the sport and knew each other through a hiking club in Valencia, California, loved ones said Friday.
PHOTOS: the search for the missing hikers
The photo was taken on a "tragic last adventure" for the group who regularly hiked and backpacked, the children of Linda and Steve Arthur said in a statement.
The couple from Camarillo, California, were outdoor enthusiasts. Steve Arthur, 58, was a sergeant and 21-year veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, sheriff's Capt. John Reilly said.
"If he wasn't at work, he was out with his kids or grandkids, hiking all the time," Reilly said. "He loved the Sierras. He loved the outdoors."
Mark MacKenzie, 56, of Valencia, California, was an avid hiker who looked out for others, particularly in the outdoors, according to his mother, Deanna MacKenzie Sisung.
"He'd carry a watermelon in his backpack, and he'd usually be the first one up there, and he'd serve everybody," Sisung said of her son, who worked for the city of Burbank and had three kids.
Don Teichner, 55, of Mesquite, Nevada, met members of the group through a California hiking club. The father and grandfather moved out of the state earlier this year and was an executive at Almore Dye House, his family's Los Angeles-based garment-dyeing company, according to his cousin and business partner, Jeff Teichner.
Gary Favela, 51, of Rancho Cucamonga, California, was adventurous and outgoing with a love for canyoneering, while Muku Reynolds, 59, of Chino, California, was a grandmother and a passionate hiker, their families said in statements released Friday by park officials.
Robin Brum, 53, a wife and mother from Camarillo, California, was a selfless person who cared for those around her, her family said.
"She leaves a hole in our hearts and our lives that will never be filled," a statement said.
Park officials say they warned the group of the risks when they got their permit Monday, telling them that there was a 40 percent chance of rain and some canyons would flood. Rangers give similar warnings nearly every day during the rainy season, officials say.
Park policy prevents rangers from assessing visitors' skill level or stopping them from entering canyons. Zion is investigating what led to the deaths and reviewing its policies, but the process for canyon entry permits is decided at the national level, park spokesman David Eaker said.
Rangers closed the canyons after the storm hit, but there was no way to warn those already inside the majestic slot formations, which can quickly fill with rain water and leave people with no escape.
The children of Steve and Linda Arthur said Friday that their parents were extremely cautious and had been watching weather reports closely. They texted family for updates before they headed into the canyon, but they didn't get cellphone service at the trailhead.
"This is nothing but a freak accident and a true case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time," the couple's children said.
Abdollah reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press reporter Sally Ho in Las Vegas contributed to this story.