One of two missing campers from Tucson who were found on a remote, steep ledge in the Willow Creek area of Death Valley National Park died, officials said Friday afternoon.
Alexander Lofgren, 32, was pronounced dead and Emily Henkel, 27, was hospitalized after the two were removed from the ledge at about noon on Friday, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office said on Facebook.
The couple, who were considered experienced campers, were found after a “lengthy” search throughout the park that started on Tuesday. The rescue was considered “highly technical,” officials said.
“This has been a tremendously difficult operation in a very unforgiving geographic area of Inyo County, I sincerely hope for healing and recovery for all involved,” Inyo County Sheriff Jeff Hollowell said in a statement.
Lofgren worked in the office of U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, who represents Arizona’s 3rd District, the office confirmed.
When the couple did not return on the due date of their camping trip, on Sunday, the Sheriff’s Office was notified and started searching on Tuesday, officials said. The two had jugs of water, at least a day’s worth of food and camping gear.
Officials called the couple’s cellphones and checked all hotels in the park and all monuments and attractions along Death Valley Highway 190 from Death Valley Junction to Lone Pine. Lofgren’s backcountry itinerary also included locations that officials checked thoroughly, sometimes twice.
Background: Note helps officials find Tucson couple missing in Death Valley
Park officials found the couple’s missing white Subaru off Gold Valley Road, where a note left on the vehicle said, “Two flat tires, headed to Mormon Point, have three days’ worth of water.” Their car broke down on the unmaintained, four-wheel-drive Gold Valley Road in Gold Valley near Smith Mountain, officials said.
Instead of hiking up to 22.5 miles to a paved road, the couple hiked west into wilderness toward Mormon Point, which is near paved road.
The Inyo Search and Rescue technical team found the couple 2 miles away from their destination through aerial reconnaissance of the extremely remote area, a statement said. A team attempted to reach the couple, but were initially unable to due to the extreme location.
Another attempt to reach the couple with an Inyo Search and Rescue team descending into the canyon started Thursday evening, officials said.
Lofgren, an Army veteran, served other veterans in southern Arizona
In 2019, Grijalva announced that Lofgren was hired for his district staff as part of the Wounded Warrior Fellowship program.
“To know Alex was to know someone who loved life, loved his family, and loved helping others. Words cannot begin to describe the void this immeasurable loss leaves in the hearts of his colleagues and his family,” Grijalva said in a statement on Friday.
Lofgren served four years in the U.S. Army as a combat engineer and deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, according to Grijalva. He also got his bachelor’s degree in political science from Arizona State University. During his fellowship, Lofgren worked as a caseworker with southern Arizona veterans on issues regarding Veterans Affairs health care, benefits and more, according to a 2019 statement.
“Alex lived a life of service and always put the needs of others first,” Grijalva said on Friday. “The passion he dedicated to his work each day touched countless lives. No matter the situation, Alex met those he helped with a smiling face, a caring heart, and unrivaled empathy.”
Grijalva said Lofgren will “forever be a part of our family, and my heart is with his family, his loving partner Emily, and his colleagues who mourn him today.”
U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema wrote on Twitter that Lofgren was her former intern and “an absolutely stellar young man.”
“He had a heart of gold and worked so hard for Arizona and our country. I’m sending so much love to his family and friends. May he rest in power,” Sinema tweeted.
Henkel worked as a contracted marketing assistant for the Arizona Army National Guard. Additional information was not immediately available, a spokesperson said.
The Sheriff’s Office credited Inyo County Search and Rescue, Death Valley National Park, Bureau of Land Management, and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services for the rescue. The office also credited China Lake Naval Weapons Base, Lemoore Naval Air Station, Army National Guard, and the California Highway Patrol for aerial support.