Exactly What Happened in a ‘Triple Waterfall Accident’ at Vernal Fall?


With the discovery of Ramina Badal’s body on Saturday, a thin sense of closure comes, in that all three victims of Vernal Fall (in Yosemite National Park) have been found. Ramina Badal, Ninos Yacoub, and Hormiz David tumbled 317-feet over the treacherous waterfall on July 19th, when losing their footing on a glass-like granite bottom of the Merced River. As many as two dozen eye-witnesses (perhaps more) saw the unfortunate incident, yet accounts are conflicting or muddled.

Who first went over the guardrailing? Most say it was Ramina. Did the waters of the Merced River appear to be calm that summer day? Enough to allure a young person in with the idea of soothing their aching feet in some healing spring water? Or was it in order to take a few pictures, to capture the beauty of a natural phenomenon, a majestic waterfall?

yosemite vernal fall

We will never know for sure what was going through these young peoples’ heads. But why didn’t others warn Ramina not to climb over the guardrail? Her boldness may have been a mere fickle moment where she wasn’t thinking too clearly, but why weren’t other adults not using better judgment, and shouting out a warning? On the other hand, maybe the Merced River waters looked tranquil and enticing to everyone, unhinging better judgment, such as when Odysseus encounters the Sirens, near the isles of Sirenuse.

To me, from looking at photos and news footage, the Vernal Fall looks perfectly terrifying, while exquisitely enchanting, simultaneously. And when viewing investigators taking photos from the guardrailing, gazing out on a sheer drop of 317 feet, I can’t even imagine a daring soul venturing out beyond the security of the safety rail. I sense, however, the waters must look much calmer at the top, before they cascade over the sharp incline of the waterfall.

yosemite fall

Moreover, I’ve read the two young men only went over the rail, once they saw Ramina losing her footing and starting to slip away. It’s even said Ramina and Ninos embraced one another as they were swept over the 90 degree angle precipice of Vernal Fall. Hormiz followed quickly behind, where rescue is forgotten and the strong current drags him unwillingly. A lucid description of this final instant of despair is provided by eye-witness Jake Bibee, but I dare not repeat it here, since the sheer agony of what he beholds is all too real.

One would like to believe we all have learned a lesson from this tragic accident, but I wonder? Yosemite National Park had a very deadly summer, with 20 deaths reported, of which 13 were from accidents. Americans like to think they are courageous, so more incidents such as this ‘triple waterfall calamity’ will probably be repeated, ad infinitum. But we don’t want to close the park, since our freedom is derived from what is dangerous and beautiful in nature.

With all my pontificating, we still don’t know exactly what happened on that summer day (July 19th), either on the Happy Isles trail or in the vicinity of the Vernal Fall, which seems to be a fitting ending for a very long hike. A spokesman for YNP, Scott Gediman, is quoted as saying (in the Los Angeles Times) that over 2,000 people were on the trail that day. From this information I think it’s safe to say, many saw the entire accident unfold, but haven’t come forward to tell what they saw and know to be true. Many want to forget it, but will never be able to bury the memory of what they saw. Better to bring it out in the open, then perhaps the flashbacks will subside, ever slowly.