Body of missing hiker found in Zion National Park

Body of missing hiker found in Zion National Park

The body of a hiker who went missing in a flash flood in Zion National Park last week has been found, the park announced Tuesday. Jetal Agnihotri, 29, of Tucson, Arizona, was found in the Virgin River near the Court of the Patriarchs, the park said.

“Our deepest sympathy goes out to the friends and family of Jetal Agnihotri,” park superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said in a statement.

Agnihotri went missing Friday when flash floods swept multiple hikers off their feet, forcing park rangers and officials to launch rescue operations. The park received a report at around 2:15 p.m. local time Friday that several hikers had been swept away in the Narrows, near the Temple of Sinawava, Zion National Park said in a statement.

During their initial search, rangers found one injured hiker who was transported to a hospital, the park said. Rangers also found several other visitors who had managed to avoid the flooding by finding high ground. They were escorted to safety once the water levels went back down, the park said.

“Throughout the afternoon and evening of August 19, Zion National Park rangers interviewed groups of visitors exiting the Narrows and Riverside Walk to ensure they were not missing a member of their party,” the park said. “At that time, no hikers were reported missing.”

It was not until later Friday evening that Agnihotri was reported missing, the park said.

“In response, park rangers continued monitoring the river during the night and mobilized additional searchers early on August 20,” the park said. “Zion Search and Rescue Team members as well as staff from many partner organizations worked in and near the Virgin River searching for Ms. Agnihotri”

The area where she was found is located about “six river miles south of the Narrows,” the park said.

Zion National Park is among the United States’ most visited recreation areas even though it frequently becomes hazardous and is put under flood warnings by the National Weather Service. Floods can create danger for experienced hikers and climbers as well as the many novices who have flocked to the park since the pandemic bolstered an outdoor recreation boom. Despite warnings, flash flooding routinely traps people in the park’s slot canyons, which are as narrow as windows in some spots and hundreds of feet deep.

“Once you’re in there, you’re just kind of S.O.L. if (a flash flood) happens,” said Scott Cundy, whose Arizona-based trekking company takes visitors on guided tours through the park.

Cundy vividly remembers one year when he was taking a group on a tour and turned to see a wall of water plunging toward them. They rushed to reach high ground in the Grand Canyon, a two-hour drive from Zion. Until moments before, he hadn’t seen one cloud in the sky. “It happens very fast,” he said. Given the topography, Cundy said he will cancel trips if there’s even a hint of rain in the narrow canyons of Zion.