One dead, two others critically burned in Yellowstone hot spring

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. - A park concession employee died Tuesday after falling into a 178-degree hot spring and two others were in critical condition.

Sara Hulphers, of Oroville, Wash., died about 15 hours after the accident late Monday. The 20-year-old woman died from complications from very severe burns, said Chris Nelson, spokesman for University of Utah's Intermountain Burn Center in Salt Lake City.

The accident occurred in the Lower Geyser Basin seven miles north of Old Faithful, roughly in the middle of the park. An area along the Firehole River was cordoned off with yellow police tape Tuesday night.

According to park spokeswoman Cheryl Matthews, the three were returning from a swim in the Firehole River when friends heard their cries between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. Monday. They fell into Cavern Spring, a 178-degree pool about 10 feet deep, she said.

The three were trying to navigate the geyser basin in the dark hours after sunset and before the moon rose, said park spokeswoman Marsha Karle. Rangers spoke with park concession employees and determined alcohol likely was not a factor in the accident, she said.

Yellowstone's hot springs are often surrounded by thin, fragile crusts and numerous warning signs are posted. Visitors to the Lower Geyser Basin are urged to stay on a half-mile boardwalk over the treacherous terrain.

''I would not venture off this boardwalk. You couldn't pay me enough to set foot off this,'' said Carla Wilson, of Denver, who was visiting Yellowstone with her mother.

Hulphers had third-degree burns over her entire body. Tyler Montague, 18, had second- and third-degree burns over 97 percent of his body, and Lance Buchi, 18, had third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body, park officials said.

Matthews said some of the friends stayed with Hulphers while others helped Montague and Buchi walk to their cars about a quarter of a mile away.

''It's pretty remarkable that they walked these two young men out, which took some time because they were pretty hurt,'' she said.

All three worked in the Old Faithful area; Hulphers in the Old Faithful Inn employee dining room, Buchi in housekeeping at the inn and Tyler at the Old Faithful Lodge kitchen.


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