Ticket-taker says she told doomed hikers of danger in canyon
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) _ A ticket-taker at a popular canyon told a group of hikers that it was dangerous to enter after a rainstorm, but did not order them to stay out, according to a report released Monday on a flash flood that killed 11 people last month.
Ellena Young works for the Navajo Nation, which charges admission to enter Lower Antelope Canyon. She told investigators that she allowed members of a tour group to descend ladders into the canyon at their own risk.
Twelve hikers were swept away Aug. 12 when a flash flood thundered through the narrow, twisting rainbow-hued canyon. Only a tour guide survived. Two bodies have yet to be recovered.
The report from the Coconino County Sheriff’s Department, the lead agency investigating the deaths, doesn’t blame anyone for the deaths but offers new details about how hikers wound up in the canyon before the flood hit.
Prosecutor Terrence Hance said Monday that no criminal charges would be filed against TrekAmerica, the British company that organized the tour for five of the victims, or the company guide who survived, Francisco Quintana.
The report said Young ordered people out of the canyon when rain fell, but 5 hikers and Quintana went back in an hour later and were surprised by the flood, which was fed by a severe thunderstorm miles away.
The report doesn’t say how the other six hikers who died got into the canyon.
Young told investigators she advised the five hikers that ``if they wanted to go back into the canyon, it would be all right with her but that it was not a good idea,″ the report said. She did not say whether Quintana was there at the time.
A spokesman for TrekAmerica denied Monday that Young warned tour members about going back into the canyon.
``I think if she said that it would be understood, but from what I’ve heard from what our leader said, she did not say that,″ said the spokesman, Jack Aakhus.
Young could not be reached for comment Monday. Her phone number isn’t listed.
Quintana told investigators that half the people on the tour had left the canyon after the first warning, but five others decided to go back in, the report said.
When Quintana returned to tell the five it was time to leave, two asked him to climb down and take their picture, the report said. That’s when the flood hit.
Quintana has declined to speak with reporters.
Among the dead were seven French citizens, two U.S. residents, a British citizen and a Swede.