Some of 7 killed in flash flooding new to climbing canyons - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Some of 7 killed in flash flooding new to climbing canyons

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ZION NATIONAL PARK, Utah (AP) — Rescuers traversed a 100-foot drop into a rugged section of Zion National Park on Thursday to find the last of seven hikers killed when fast-moving floodwaters rushed through a narrow Utah canyon.

The body was found a few miles from the sandstone gorge where the group of California and Nevada residents got trapped during a violent rainstorm, in an area that had been unreachable previously amid fears of more flooding, park spokesman David Eaker said. The rest of the victims, all in their 40s and 50s, were found earlier this week.

Some in the group were new to rappelling and were swimming through narrow canyons in a sport called canyoneering, but park policy prevents rangers from assessing their skill level or stopping them from going, even after repeated warnings of the flood risk Monday.

The park is investigating what led to the deaths and reviewing its policies, but the process for canyon entry permits is decided at the national level and any changes would likely need to come from the top down, Eaker said.

Flash flooding Monday also killed at least 12 other people, including nine children, in a nearby polygamous town on the Utah-Arizona border. Raging waters swept two cars downstream, leaving a 6-year-old boy still missing. Three other children survived.

Authorities in Mohave County, Arizona, said Thursday they were searching for a 33-year-old man from the area who has been missing since the flash floods hit Monday. Ryan Mertlich's car was discovered heavily damaged in a flood plain about 15 miles west of Colorado City.

Mertlich's family reported him missing Tuesday, saying he typically drives the back roads in the area, said Mohave County sheriff's spokeswoman Trish Carter.

North in Zion, the seven hikers were clambering through a popular canyon when a deluge seen only once a century unleashed a wall of churning water. The flooding likely rushed over their heads in moments and carried them miles downstream, Eaker said.

"It would be just like a drain, it just funnels down in there very quickly, very fast," he said.

Officials believe the group entered Keyhole Canyon late Monday afternoon, after some of those new to canyoneering took a course, he said. The route is considered entry level, according to canyoneering experts.

Park officials have not released the names of the hikers, but the Ventura County Sheriff's Department in Southern California said Sgt. Steve Arthur, 58, was on the trip. His wife, Linda Arthur, also was part of the group.

Only 80 people a day can visit Keyhole Canyon. The group was told of the danger of flash flooding when they got their entry permit, a common warning during the rainy season, park officials say. They decided to go anyway.

Rangers closed the park's 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.

Aside from one spot near the entrance of Keyhole Canyon, "there really is no high ground. You're in a slot pretty much the whole way," Eaker said.

Exploring slot canyons found in the desert Southwest can require a combination of hiking, climbing, swimming and caving. Canyoneering has grown in popularity in recent years, attracting people who enjoy the challenge and the beauty of the canyons.

Even a small amount of rain can turn a trip deadly as the moisture runs off the desert landscape and fills the canyon with water, branches, rocks and debris.

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