5 hikers killed in a Mount Princeton rockslide were members of same family

10:05 PM, Oct 1, 2013   |    comments
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CHAFFEE COUNTY - The five hikers who were trapped by a rockslide near Mount Princeton in Chaffee County and declared dead Monday are all members of the same family from Buena Vista, Colo., the Associated Press has learned.

The bodies of the five victims were recovered on Tuesday afternoon and transferred to the morgue in Salida.

A 13-year-old girl - later identified as Gracie Johnson - was pulled from the debris by first responders and flown to Children's Hospital in Aurora. She received a broken leg and is expected to fully recover. Another hiker witnessed the rockslide and called 911.

On Tuesday morning, the hikers were identified as 46-year-old Dwayne Johnson, 45-year-old Dawna Johnson, their 18-year-old daughter Kiowa-Rain Johnson, their 10-year-old nephew Baigen Walker and 22-year-old nephew Paris Walkup. The nephews were visiting from Birch Tree, Mo.

The Johnson family is well known in the Buena Vista community as being active in local school events. Both Dawna and Dwayne were coaches at Buena Vista Schools.

The Chaffee County Coroner's Office confirmed the hikers' deaths Monday evening after a day-long rescue operation.

Officials say the Johnson family were hiking on the Agnes Vaille Falls Trail Monday morning when they were caught in the rockslide about one mile up from the trailhead. The trail is off County Road 162.

"What the geologists said, there was a cliff face above. It looks like it came loose," Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze said. "It's a lot of very large rocks and boulders and a lot of loose smaller rocks, but it all came down in a very large slide."

Authorities said the initial emergency call said there could have been as many as seven hikers involved, but that they now believe the number was six, including the evacuated child.

Several agencies including engineers and geology experts were on scene to help with rescue efforts that have now turned into a recovery operation.

Officials say the site of slide is very unsafe at the moment, and no one is allowed up other than rescue workers. Chaffee County Sheriff Peter Palmer said recovery operations will resume Tuesday.

"We will go back in as soon as the area can be declared safe for the search teams," Sheriff Palmer said.

He said some of the boulders that fell on the hikers are as large as cars and weigh hundreds of tons.

The hiking trail is highly used by local area residents, and tourists, which leads to a waterfall. Significant recent rains may have been a contributing factor to the unstable conditions in the area, although the exact cause of this specific slide is not yet known.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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