Couple that died of extreme heat on hike were trying to save their baby, probe finds

BY Herschel Smith
1 month, 1 week ago

Sent from a reader, a sad analysis.

The couple found dead on a Northern California hiking trail over the summer desperately tried to save their 1-year-old daughter before all three succumbed to extreme heat as temperatures soared to 109 degrees, investigators found.

British software engineer Jonathan Gerrish, 45, his wife Ellen Chung, 31, and their daughter, Miju were found dead of hyperthermia and dehydration on a remote Sierra National Forest hiking trail in August.

Their dog, Oski — an 8-year-old Australian shepherd and Akita mix — also died on the trail.

Investigators now believe the couple was desperately seeking for medical help for Miju, before they themselves succumbed to the brutal temperatures, according to a new 77-page report obtained by The San Francisco Chronicle.

Officials ruled out several other factors for their deaths through the course of the investigation, including murder, lightning strikes, poisoning, illegal drugs and suicide.

A survival trainer wrote in an email to detectives that in all likelihood, the parents’ panicked efforts to help the baby — who likely began suffering from symptoms first — possibly led to their own deaths.

“Sadly, I believe they were caught off guard, and once they realized their situation, they died trying to save their child and each other,” the trainer wrote to detectives, according to The Chronicle.

He called the mix of the terrain, elevation and heat a “deadly trifecta.”

“It is likely the child began to succumb first, which hurried the parents’ efforts up the hill,” the trainer wrote. “When one could no longer continue, they stayed behind to care for the child and pet, while the other tried to forge on and get help for their loved ones. It is a tragedy of the highest order.”

First of all, remember the necessary life-saving kit that MUST be carried in the bush: Rubberized poncho, parka, redundant fire start, large bore handgun, food energy, cordage, tactical light, knife, water and means of water filtration.  This might have saved their lives.

Beyond this, I was commenting to my oldest son not too many days ago that the biggest enemy of survival in the bush is panic.  If you carry the right kit, you can be in the position where you say to yourself or loved ones, “I don’t know where we are, but it’s getting dark and we need warmth, shelter, water and rest.  We have the right kit for it, so we camp here for the night and get a safe, good night sleep, and carry on at first light.”

If you panic, adrenalin rushes into your system, you expend way too much energy, your judgment is clouded and you’re more likely to do stupid things, you get exhausted, the exhaustion makes you cold, and you risk hypothermia.

In the bush, panic is your enemy.  It sounds as if they didn’t have the right kit, and they panicked.

It’s a sad but preventable story.


Comments

  1. On December 6, 2021 at 11:34 pm, BRVTVS said:

    It’s odd that the early reports didn’t mention the temperatures. I was left with the impression that toxic algae which supposedly couldn’t be filtered killed them.

  2. On December 6, 2021 at 11:45 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    That may have been further down in the article, or I might have seen it elsewhere. I recall it too.

    Of course, that would have been handled with a filtration device, all except for viruses (with a ceramic filter).

  3. On December 6, 2021 at 11:49 pm, Fred said:

    106 isn’t too hot for a few hours while waiting quietly in shade until it’s an hour or so before dusk. I agree, they lacked water and panicked. The baby, lacking acclimation, may well have died even in the shade. But it doesn’t suddenly become 106!!! They should have sensed the danger sooner. The article says they weren’t far, but the way back was uphill. Keep that in mind folks when in the mountains. Uphill ain’t downhill,. Both present unique challenges, but 106 uphill with no shade, yeah, that could kill you.

  4. On December 7, 2021 at 1:51 pm, Peter said:

    One of those articles mentioned a toxin in the local water produced by the blue-green algae. Would a quality filter take that out, or is that a chemical contaminant?

  5. On December 8, 2021 at 1:14 pm, Tom said:

    Why? Why would you take an infant and a dog on a hiking trip in the middle of summer? If you want to challenge yourself/yourselves that is one thing, taking along a dog and baby is just stupid.

  6. On December 8, 2021 at 1:46 pm, Drew in Michigan said:

    Agreed, panic is a known enemy! From having been lost in the UP of MI. I had a few moments, I’m ashamed to admit, where I panicked and almost started running! Then something clicked in my mind and I slid to a stop, looked around and started laughing at myself, and said self, you’re lost and all fubar’d nows a good time for a coffee and a smoke!
    From experience looking at maps of the area if I walk a straight line I will hit a road (anywhere from 2 to 20 miles) and right or left, does not matter either way, you just self saved! Took me the better part of the day (ankle deep snow) to get out. But that gave me a lot of time to reflect on my “panic moment” and deal with it! It’s a shameful thing, panic is and hard even now 30 years later to admit too!

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This article is filed under the category(s) Survival and was published December 6th, 2021 by Herschel Smith.

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