The five people killed when boulders the size of cars fell from a cliff in Colorado were members of the same family, authorities said Tuesday — as was a 13-year-old girl who apparently survived when her father shielded her from the tumbling rocks.
The girl, Gracie Johnson, was in stable condition after surgery to repair a broken leg.
Sheriff’s deputies and some 40 volunteers from various agencies have recovered the five bodies at the base of the Agnes Vaille Falls, Chaffee County Sheriff Pete Palmer said just before 2 p.m.
A spokeswoman for Chaffee County identified the dead as Dwayne and Dawna Johnson, 46 and 45, their daughter Kiowa-Rain, 18, and two visiting nephews, Baigen Walker, 10, and Paris Walkup, 22. Dawna Johnson was a high school track coach, authorities said.
Rescuers dug Gracie out after the rockslide Monday. Chaffee County Sheriff’s Deputy Nick Tolsma said he saw Gracie’s hand sticking out from the boulders and helped pull her free. The girl told him that her father had protected her from the rocks, he said.
“Her dad is a real hero,” the deputy told TODAY. “Saved her life.”
The five were hiking a popular trail below 14,000-foot Mount Princeton when several bounders came loose in a rockslide several football fields across. Another hiker saw it happen and called 911. Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze said some of the rocks weighed more than 100 tons and measured 8x10x20 feet.
“There was a cliff bank above the falls, and it looks like it slid off,” he told TODAY.
A man who called 911 said that he had not seen the family struck by the rocks, but he said a group of people came down the mountain upset and said that a woman had been hit in the head.
“Like a whole chunk of the mountain just slid down,” he told the dispatcher.
Dawna Johnson was a track coach at Buena Vista High School, authorities said. A memorial service was planned there Saturday.
The bodies have been transferred to the morgue in Salida, Colo., according to the county sheriff’s office.
The landslide came weeks after record rainfall and flash floods in Colorado killed eight people and caused millions of dollars of damage.
Sophia Rosenbaum, Alexander Smith and Daniel Arkin of NBC News contributed to this report.
First published October 1 2013, 2:53 PM