Vernal

Vernal Falls (flickr/joe shlabotnik)

After witnesses in California's Yosemite National Park watched three hikers get swept over the 317-foot Vernal Falls on Tuesday, park officials are renewing their warnings to be cautious around the park's waterways.

After a record winter snowfall, Yosemite received 199 percent of normal snowpack which has led to higher water levels than normal.  While the views of the falls are spectacular, according to park officials, river currents are treacherous and Tuesday's accident brings the number of water-related deaths in Yosemite this year to six.

Two hikers drowned in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on June 29, and a hiker slipped and fell into the Merced River on the Mist Trail (the same location of Tuesday's incident) on May 13.

Published accounts say that 12 people have died by falling over the falls since record-keeping began in the 1920s.  According to the records, no one has survived the fall.

Eyewitnesses said that a man and woman climbed over the railing and appeared to be taking pictures on Tuesday when one slipped on wet rocks off of the Mist Trail and tumbled into the fast moving waters of the Merced River above the falls.  What followed was a chain reaction where one friend and then the other dived into the waters, attempting to save the initial person who slipped.

Witnesses looked on in horror as all three were then swept over the falls into a rock-strewn pool over 300 feet below.

Park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said the footing in the area can be treacherous because of the persistent mist in the air.

The portion of the trail up near Vernal Falls is called the Mist Trial, she said. It's a very wet area. The water from the waterfall actually flows onto the trail so those rocks are wet and they can be slippery.

The path to the top of Vernal Falls, a three-mile trek with a 1,000-foot rise in elevation, is one of the most popular hikes in the park. At the top, a guardrail separates visitors from the dangerous river currents, and signs in multiple languages warn visitors of the danger created by slippery boulders.

Rangers closed Mist Trail following the incident.

Though the three are feared dead, authorities are calling their probe a search and rescue operation and the missing hiker's families are hoping for a miracle.

The victims, all California residents, have been identified as Hormiz David, 22, of Modesto; Ramina Badal, 21, of Manteca; and Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock.