In the morning of October 21, 1996, Death Valley National Park (DVNP) Ranger Dave Brenner was aboard a military helicopter somewhere in the skies over the southerly part of Death Valley. He was part of a routine aerial surveillance looking for clandestine drug manufacturing labs in the backcountry. Around 11 AM, he saw something unexpected: A vehicle in the wash of Anvil Canyon, approximately 2.4 miles downstream from Willow Spring, the head of Anvil Canyon. This was extremely odd for several reasons.

In 1996, a family of German tourists disappeared while traveling through Death Valley, California. This first-hand account describes one man's search to discover what happened to them.

I've seen this one discussed several times on Reddit, so I thought I'd share it here as well. It contains a fascinating description of the search-and-rescue process in remote areas, some excellent amateur detective work, and a very real sense of how easy it is to find yourself in a survival situation.


I've been lost in the woods. It's the opposite of fun.

I've been forced to go overland when my car broke down (my own damn fault). 10 miles without a trail, without water, in Arizona, around Prescott/Sedona, in the summer. I brought back a deer skull as a ward against misfortune.

And I've driven through the area being discussed, as much as you can. Hell, further south down by Quartzite you get a real sense of bad news when you're on a motorcycle.

And I grew up in the desert. Getting stuck is what we did for fun. So maybe that's a little bit of innoculation but... I mean, damn.

- Foreign country

- Plymouth Voyager

- Dirt road in the desert

- 11 and 4 year old

...I mean, I'm good for two of four. Maybe three. The author is right - a series of small mistakes quickly becomes more dire than one big one and once you've made one small mistake, another one is that much easier.

I just finished a book on the Dyatlov Pass Incident which lays out all the stuff the Internet rarely does - namely, that a bunch of young enthusiastic hikers venturing three days' hike deep into the Urals in February can find all sorts of mundane ways to die. Jack London had the right of it - when you're hanging it all out somewhere beyond the bounds of civilization, death comes as a slow inevitability.

Thanks for making me blow an hour reading the adventures of finding dead idiots 15 years after the fact. Now I'm gonna go hug my kid.

posted by sparrowhawk: 1139 days ago