National Park

Missing Zion National Park hiker dies after flash flooding in Utah


A 29-year-old hiker died after being reported missing Friday night in Zion National Park, Utah, the park announced Tuesday.

University of Arizona graduate student Jetal Agnihotri was discovered Monday in the Virgin River near a group of sandstone cliffs known as the Court of the Patriarchs, park officials said, ending a multi-day search involving 170 stakeholders.

“Our deepest sympathy goes out to the friends and family of Jetal Agnihotri,” Zion National Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh said in a news release.

The park could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday evening. According to the press release, a medical examiner confirmed Agnihotri’s death.

On Friday evening, park officials received a report that Agnihotri was late from a trip to the Narrows, an area about six miles north of where she was later found. The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, with walls approximately 1,000 feet high, and is one of the most popular areas in the park.

Earlier in the day, officials received a separate report about hikers “swept away by a flash flood in the Narrows,” the park said. Park officials rescued an injured hiker swept away by rising waters and others stranded by flash floods.

Rangers also interviewed visitors exiting the Narrows and, at the time, no one reported missing. Agnihotri had been hiking with school friends before his disappearance, his university newspaper reported.

After receiving the report on Agnihotri, park officials and state and local emergency responders continued to monitor the Virgin River. The park had firm some trails due to a thunderstorm the night before.

Deadly flash floods can strike without warning at Zion National Park, which attracts millions of visitors each year.

During search operations, seasonal monsoon rains had increased the flow of the Virgin River to a peak of 1,100 cubic feet per second, the park said. A cubic foot of water contains about 7.5 gallons and weighs about 60 pounds. The Virgin River flows on average at about 100 cubic feet per second. When Agnihotri was discovered this week, the river had slowed to about 50 cubic feet per second.

They were hiking in the desert with no cell service. Then they fell into quicksand.

Zion National Park is known for having heavier summer showers due to its annual monsoon season, between July and September. The park describes flash floods as unpredictable, deadly and impossible to outrun. They can occur with sunny skies, the park says on its website.

Zion officials advise visitors to plan for flash flooding, avoid areas prone to flooding, and leave directions with someone before heading out. Signs of an impending flash flood include a change in water color and an increase in debris in the water, the park says on its website. As little as 6 inches of water can knock people out, he adds.