A 68-year-old hiker was found dead in California’s Death Valley as temperatures in the national park reached a scorching 118 degrees, authorities said.
A helicopter crew spotted Douglas Branham’s body on Wednesday — two miles from the closest road in the desert valley, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.
It wasn’t clear how or when Branham died, but authorities believe he set out on a planned 12-mile hike Sunday or Monday, when the humidity hit an oppressive 91 percent and highs were a thermometer-shattering 118.
The hiker was in town from Washington state with a plan to trek across salt flats, but he missed a flight home on Tuesday, the release stated. His belongings were found to still be in his hotel room the next day, according to the statement.
Park rangers found his car in a parking lot at Badwater, where he had planned to start his hike, authorities said.
It was so hot in the area that when the California Highway Patrol’s helicopter located Branham, it couldn’t immediately pick up his remains.
“Helicopter rotors struggle to create enough lift in hot air, and temperatures were about 115°F at the time,” the sheriff’s office stated.
“The helicopter landed at Furnace Creek airport to off-load equipment to lighten the helicopter before returning with a park ranger to recover his body.”
Death Valley is known for its unforgiving heat, and this month likely set a record for hottest average temperature ever recorded on Earth with 118.1 degrees, according to the Washington Post. The highest maximum temperature ever recorded – 134 degrees – was measured in Death Valley in 1913, the Post stated.
The release on Brandam ended with a warning from officials amid a brutal heat wave out West.
“Park rangers urge summer travelers to visit Death Valley safely by hiking only before 10 am or at high elevations, drinking plenty of water, eating snacks, and by staying close to an air-conditioned building or vehicle to cool down in,” it said.