Two hikers killed in separate incidents at Yosemite National Park

05/16/2011 10:54 AM

05/17/2011 10:41 AM

Two hikers at Yosemite National Park were killed in separate incidents on Friday.

Kent Scott Butler, 60, of Austin, Texas, was hiking the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls when he slipped on a rock slab just before noon on Friday and fell into the Merced River below. He became lodged in rocks in the fast-moving water and likely drowned, according to Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman. Butler was a professor and assistant dean of research and operations at University of Texas.

The Mist Trail is always wet and slippery, but is even more hazardous this year. Yosemite's snowpack is at 199 percent of normal, resulting in spectacular -- and often dangerous -- conditions around its famed waterfalls.

Yosemite search and rescue crews staged an elaborate recovery effort on Saturday, involving Ranger Matt Stark suspended from ropes and climbing equipment to retrieve Butler's body from the river.

Around the same time across the Valley, James Dunbar, 27, of Berkeley was running down the Upper Yosemite Falls trail when he tripped and fell. By the times rangers got there, he was dead, Gediman said. The cause of Dunbar's death is still being investigated.

Yosemite has an average of 15 deaths in the park each year, Gediman said.

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