National Park Service (NPS) rangers received a call on Monday, July 16 from the hiker’s fiancée. She reported that Peter Rhoad, a 57-year-old man from Huntington Beach, California, was overdue in returning from his trip to Death Valley National Park. She provided the park with a list of hikes that Mr. Rhoad was thinking of doing, which helped narrow the search area in the 3,400,000-acre national park.
Park rangers found his vehicle at the Panamint Dunes trailhead in the late afternoon. Rangers conducted a quick ground search west of the parking area, based on information that his likely destination was Panamint Dunes.
On the morning of July 17, Inyo Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Coordinator and California Highway Patrol H-82 helicopter began aerial search and rescue. They first spotted Mr. Rhoad’s backpack about 0.8 miles east of his parked car, not west as expected. Mr. Rhoad’s body was found about 2,500 feet away from his backpack.
He was transported by helicopter to Lone Pine. The Inyo County Deputy Coroner conducted an autopsy and determined the cause of death to be a skull fracture caused by a fall, compounded by exposure to the elements.
Mr. Rhoad’s backpack contained a route description to Panamint Butte, a rugged off-trail route involving about 4,000 feet of elevation gain over loose rocks without a trail or designated route. The temperature at that location likely exceeded 115⁰F on the day he was reported missing.
NPS rangers do not recommend hiking at low elevations in Death Valley National Park during the summer due to excessive heat.
People driving or hiking in remote areas should communicate their plans to a trusted friend or family member. That person should have detailed information about the hiker’s plans. The hiker should commit to a time that he or she will be back in cell phone coverage and check in with the friend. If the hiker misses that check-in time, then the friend will report them overdue and request a search.