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Washington hiker found dead in California's Death Valley

Douglas Branham, 68, of Tukwila, had planned a 12-mile round trip through the salt flats of the California park, where temperatures can be among the hottest on Earth.
People walk on salt flats in Badwater Basin on July 11, 2021, in Death Valley National Park, Calif.
People walk on salt flats in Badwater Basin on July 11, 2021, in Death Valley National Park, Calif.John Locher / AP file
/ Source: Associated Press

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — A hiker from Washington state has been found dead in Death Valley National Park, where temperatures can be among the hottest on Earth, authorities said Thursday.

Douglas Branham, 68, of Tukwila, had planned a 12-mile round trip through the salt flats of the California park but missed a flight home on Tuesday.

A California Highway Patrol helicopter crew discovered his body Wednesday about 2 miles from the closest road, according to a joint statement from the park and the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office.

“Helicopter rotors struggle to create enough lift in hot air, and temperatures were about 115 degrees Fahrenheit at the time,” the statement said.

The helicopter had to land and unload equipment to reduce weight before returning with a park ranger to recover the body, officials said.

Branham probably began his hike on Sunday or Monday, when temperatures hit 118 degrees with 91 percent humidity, the statement said.

The Inyo County coroner’s office is investigating the cause of his death.

Earlier this month, the National Weather Service said Death Valley recorded a high temperature of 130 degrees. Death Valley holds the record for the highest recorded temperature on Earth at 134 degrees, set in 1913, although some dispute its accuracy.