Timeline of Flash Flood Tragedy in Zion’s Keyhole Canyon

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On the afternoon of Monday, September 14, 2015 southwestern Utah received heavy rain. Storms arrived between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m and dropped 0.63” in Zion National Park causing flash floods including in a small canyon called Keyhole Canyon.

Park rangers received a report of a group of seven people canyoneering in Keyhole Canyon that had not returned to their car Monday evening. A search began Tuesday morning.

As the search continued for the missing hikers, high water levels and continued rain showers posed further flash flooding concerns and have hampered searchers’ access to portions of the canyoneering route.

Keyhole Canyon is a short, narrow slot canyon located on the east side of Zion National Park. A permit is required for traveling through Keyhole Canyon and individuals must complete several short rappels under 30 feet and swim through several pools of water.

“Our heartfelt sympathies go out to those affected by the flash flooding in Keyhole Canyon. We have witnessed an incredible community of the family members and friends of the canyoneers come together to support one another. The canyoneers along with their families and friends are in our thoughts,” said Zion Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh in a press release on September 17, 2015.

Timeline

Monday, September 14, 2015

7:40 a.m. The group of seven picked up their canyoneering permit for Keyhole Canyon.

2:22 p.m. The park area came under a flash flood warning from the National Weather Service. The warning was publicized through several media sources and posted in all of the park’s contact stations. Canyons were closed to canyoneering.

3:30 to 4:30 p.m. The group of seven entered Keyhole Canyon.

4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Zion Canyon received 0.63 inches of rain in less than one hour. Rangers noted Keyhole Canyon and several other canyons began to flash flood. The flow of the North Fork of the Virgin River rose abruptly from 55 Cubic Feet per Second (CFS) to 2,630 CFS in 15 minutes. River levels this high occur approximately once every three years.

Peak Flows
North Fork: 2,630 cfs at 5:30 pm
East Fork: 2,740 cfs at 5:45 pm
Virgin River at Virgin: 1,690 cfs at 9:15 pm

5:30 p.m. Another canyoneering group who had been through Keyhole Canyon just before the flood reported to park rangers that they had passed a group of seven canyoneers and believed that they may have been caught in the flood. Rangers located the group’s vehicles, but did not see any sign of the group. Keyhole Canyon was already flash flooding. Due to weather at the time and through the evening, it was determined that rescue operations could not be safely initiated.

9:00 p.m. Park rangers checked on the canyoneers again. There was still no sign of the group.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

7:00 a.m. The search began. Keyhole Canyon was still inaccessible to Search and Rescue crews due to weather and high water levels. Searchers were able to follow its course and glimpse into the canyon at several locations. There was no response to verbal calls. The search continued downstream into Clear Creek.

1:30 p.m. Steve Arthur was located in Clear Creek.

2:30 p.m. A private canyoneering group went through Keyhole Canyon and reported the location of an individual who was later identified as Gary Favela.

4:15 p.m. Muku Reynolds was located in Clear Creek.

5:15 p.m. Don Teichner was located in Pine Creek drainage.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

7:00 a.m. The search resumed. Due to weather conditions and high water levels, the technical sections of Keyhole Canyon and Pine Creek Canyon were not accessible.

11:15 a.m. Robin Brum was located in Pine Creek drainage.

11:50 a.m. Mark MacKenzie was located in Pine Creek drainage.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

7:00 a.m. The search began. Improved weather conditions allowed rescuers to enter the technical sections of Keyhole Canyon and Pine Creek Canyon.

10:45 a.m. Linda Arthur was located in Pine Creek Canyon.

6:00 p.m. Search and Rescue Operations were concluded. An investigation is still on-going at this time.


“We appreciate all of the support from our cooperators and staff for all of their care and assistance.”

During the Search and Rescue Operations, over 60 searchers from multiple agencies have contributed over 760 hours in their efforts to find the missing people. Agencies assisting Zion National Park include Washington County Search and Rescue, Kane County Search and Rescue, Sanpete County Search and Rescue, Washington County Deputies, Town of Springdale, Rockville-Springdale Fire Protection District, Rocky Mountain Rescue Dogs, the Color Country Interagency Fire Center, Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Grand Canyon National Park, and Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument.

“Our condolences go out to the family and friends of the canyoneers,” said Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh.