Mariposa & Yosemite

After three deaths, new safety measures encouraged at Yosemite

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK – Relatives of three San Joaquin Valley hikers swept over Vernal Fall a week ago continue near-daily trips to the park, desperate for news of their children.

"We can't sleep at night," said Tony Badal, whose daughter went into the water along with two friends during a day trip to Yosemite. "Our loved ones are not home."

Ramina Badal, 21, of Manteca, Hormiz David, 22, of Modesto, and Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock, had gone around a guardrail and disregarded warning signs and the pleas of bystanders to come back.

When one slipped, the others tried to help, and all were carried away by the rushing water, apparently falling to their deaths. Their bodies have not been recovered.

While the families plead with park authorities to do all they can in the search, they also are concerned for potential dangers facing future hikers. They asked Romina Kiryakous, founder of Genesis Behavior Center to have her firm conduct an assessment of the safety measures in place at Vernal Fall. Genesis Behavior Center has offices in Modesto and Fresno.

Though signs warn hikers to stay on the trails and a metal rail lines the top of the 317-foot waterfall, Kiryakous doesn't think that's enough.

"I'm not content with that skimpy little rail," Kiryakous said, pointing out two women who went on the other side of it to wash their hands Tuesday afternoon.

Kiryakous and her team have been collecting data over several visits to the fall; a certified behavior analyst will compile findings, set for release Friday.

National Park Service officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Search and rescue crews looked through the end of last week and over the weekend, but the Park Service scaled the search back Tuesday. Rangers will continue to hike along the trail to Vernal Fall, looking for any signs.

The family members emphasized that they are grateful to the rangers and rescue personnel they have worked with, but they think they should bring in more help.

"They're reacting instead of acting," said Sargon David, Nenos David's father. He said when he learned from a friend that his son might have his cell phone on him, he tried to work with the phone carrier to seek out a GPS signal. But the phone company said that request would have to come from law enforcement. "That was Thursday," he said. "This is Tuesday, and they don't know anything."

While they are struggling to come to terms with their tragedy, the family members said they also want to focus on what lies ahead for other hikers.

David, who worked on safety issues in his native Australia, said he immediately grew concerned when rangers explained to him how the area of Vernal Fall works.

"I was here two minutes and I realized there was a problem," he said, adding that if he had been aware of the dangers he wouldn't have let his son go on the trip. He said he realizes that the federal government is strapped for money, but that it wouldn't take much to beef up security measures. "They'll spend $1 million on recovering people, but don't want to spend $5,000 on a fence."

Park officials said previously they did not plan to make any changes to their security measures, believing that the railing and warning signs in place are sufficient.

Kiryakous said she realizes the park is wilderness, and it can be a treacherous place. But she thinks the Park Service can do more to make visitors aware of just how dangerous conditions get. She plans to offer her firm's findings and suggestions to the federal government.

She said the goal of the assessment isn't to make demands on the Park Service, but to start a conversation about potential new safety measures.

The families want that, and a little more. They want people to realize that their children weren't wild risk-takers.

"Ask anybody," said Shamiran David, Nenos' mother. "My son is a gentleman. All of those kids were mature and well-behaved. They wouldn't do silly things to risk their lives."Relatives of three San Joaquin Valley hikers swept over Vernal Fall a week ago continue near-daily trips to the park, desperate for news of their children.