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Book Review of Over the Edge Death in Grand Canyon Fatal Mishaps

Updated on May 5, 2017

Over the Edge Death in Grand Canyon

Over the Edge:  Death in Grand Canyon, a gripping account of fatal mishaps
Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, a gripping account of fatal mishaps | Source

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon National Park located in Arizona is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and covers 1,217, 262 acres. The Canyon's colors change with the time of day and the seasons. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979 and attracts over five million visitors from all over the world each year. Wildlife is varied and the plants, flowers, cacti and trees vary according to the depth. It is a mecca for hikers, birders, campers, those who raft the Colorado River gorge at the bottom, those who enjoy the mule ride to Phantom Ranch, and those who come for a short visit to view the Canyon from the edges. Most visitors view the Canyon from the South Rim where they may stay in one of the lodges, stroll the pathways, enjoy a snack while viewing and leave with their photos, souvenirs and memories. However, for some the Grand Canyon experience results in death. In Over the Edge:Death in Grand Canyon by Michael P Ghigliere and Thomas Myers, the topic is those who have made fatal mistakes which led to their deaths.

Since I have lived in Arizona for sixty years now, I figure I have visited the Grand Canyon over twenty five times. It is ever changing and always a thrill to see the Canyon and make new discoveries. On several occasions, I have watched children playing on top of the rock walls at the edge and other foolish people with cameras stepping over barriers hoping for that perfect photo. In the summer months, many visitors are not wearing hats and they puff along the walkways, sweating and red faced. So it isn't a surprise to read about those who have died from poor judgement in a variety of ways. However Over the Edge is a fascinating account of the variety of people and the mistakes which led to their deaths. Some of the deaths occurred from disasters such as air crashes, flooding or suicides, but most deaths came from either being ignorant of the Canyon and its climate or from ignoring sound advice.

Death by Cameras

The earliest date for an Over the Edge death recorded in the book is 1884; but logic makes us aware that this is only the earliest death recorded of a person of European heritage and does not reflect the number of deaths going back hundreds of years of Native peoples. Nor does it include the early miners or explorers who wandered in and who were not seen again. Many stories are devoted to those trying to take the perfect photo. One of the accounts takes place in 1946, when a fashion photo shoot for "pedal pushers" with the model assuming a death defying pose. Sure enough, the blinding flash bulbs on the camera caused her to fall. While the model was rescued and did not die, many accounts of deaths due to taking photos have been documented. Either the subjects in the photo backed up too far, or the would be photographers climbed on unsafe rocks and ground, or leaned over a bit too far. While some "camera deaths" occurred because of trying to photograph the Canyon, others have occurred while photographers were trying to take photos of the El Tovar or Bright Angel Lodges.

Death from Lack of Planning and Information

Some hikers have died from their lack of knowledge and preparation of the weather conditions and adequate trail maps. While many days do not have extreme heat at the Canyon rim, the temperatures toward the bottom soar. The opposite can be true of being unprepared for a freak snowstorm. Seeking shade in the summer months, and shelter in the winter storms if possible, may be the difference between wanting a return trip or a fatality. Staying on the marked trail is also important. Taking supposed short cuts off known trails have caused deaths. Either those deaths were due to becoming lost, or a fall from an unknown or slippery ledge. Letting others know the hiking area plan is important.

Deaths from not carrying adequate water happen when dehydration sets in and a person is no longer in control of their brain functions. True most of these dehydration deaths happen in the summer months, but in an ironic twist, deaths have also occurred from too much water coming into a slot canyon, where there is little chance of escaping a wall of water, debris and mud. People can't imagine a flash flood in such a dry area. A flash flood in Antelope Canyon (a well known and extremely beautiful slot canyon) descended quickly upon a group of tourists in August of 1997 resulting in 11 deaths.

Accidents and Falls

Hiking solo, or hiking without the proper equipment and clothing is another "no No." There are more young males who have been guilty of both "no nos" and who have lost their lives. There have been more incidents of overconfidence in their physical abilities, and or the tendency to take unnecessary risks that have been fatal mistakes. Rafting without life jackets or the equipment to weather a raft mishap, or just having a reliable raft has cost lives. Other unavoidable weird deaths from lightening, wind gusts, and falling tree branches are scarce. This spring a grandmother and her 14 year old grandson were swept away while trying to cross a creek in a remote part of the Canyon. While the grandmother survived, unfortunately the grandson didn't. Ever heard the term, "A Grand Canyon Divorce"? Murders while few, have taken place in the Grand Canyon. While I personally have never had the nerve to ride the mule train down Bright Angel Trail, their safety record is amazing.

The Book is of Interest to Most

Most of the deaths and the circumstances surrounding them, might have been prevented. There are hundreds of sources and tips available to plan and enjoy visiting Grand Canyon. The National Park Service, and the various visitors information websites, offer great advice. While I have presented mostly morbid topics from Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, in many cases there have been a number of extreme rescues documented as well. Each chapter is devoted to mishaps within a particular area or topic, and the names and dates of those fatalities are listed at the end of each section. It's not a book that can or should be read quickly, but I think having read the book, people would be much more inclined to plan and take safety measures.


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    • mactavers profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      Yes, while I've been to the Grand Canyon many times, and the area near the edge is well posted, people keep standing on top of the retaining wall or hopping over it to get better shots or to feed the squirrels. Heat exhaustion in the summer still is a big factor too. Thanks for your comment.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      4 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for this review of "Over the Edge . . ." It sounds like a very interesting read. I can imagine the plight of the photographers aiming for the perfect shot. I hope that the deaths of those who died from being careless would remind the tourists who come after to heed the warning. I'd like to read the book.


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