A solo backpacker found dead at the bottom of a Panther Creek waterfall in Sequoia National Park on Thursday, May 12, has been identified as David Hallinan, 53, of Santa Monica. According to the Tulare County Coroner, Hallinan died of blunt force trauma.
It is probable he tumbled down the vertical granite chute before ending up in a pool near where Panther Creek joins the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River.
The Panther Creek area is a popular backpackers' campsite three miles out on the Middle Fork Trail that continues another eight to nine miles to Redwood Meadow. The lower-elevation Middle Fork Trail starts near 3,000 feet and gradually ascends the north wall of the Kaweah canyon for another 2,500 feet in the first six miles.
The trail is popular with shoulder-season (spring or fall) hikers looking for some backcountry camping when nights on the High Sierra Trail (above 7,000 feet) are too cold or the trail is snow covered.
On the day Hallinan died, another party met him along the trail and reported later that he seemed tired. This same group of hikers became concerned when they noticed his unattended backpack at Panther Creek and two water bottle lids at the top of the waterfall.
A solo backpacker, Hallinan was reported missing Wednesday, May 11, by the hikers using a satellite phone. The next day, National Park Service swiftwater rescuers located his body underwater at the base of the 200-foot waterfall.
Park rangers speculated that Hallinan may have been trying to fill his water bottles when he fell into the cold creek. A water bottle was also found in the pool below.
Hallinan’s pack still contained all his gear. The 90-degree temperature may have made it necessary that he first fill his water bottles and hydrate before setting up camp or continuing his hike to the trailhead.
A total of 36 National Park Service staff and one helicopter worked on the search and recovery operations.
Hallinan worked as a first assistant director for film and TV. His television credits include “Sons of Anarchy,” “Burn Notice,” and “Criminal Minds,” among many others, and movies “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.” Hallinan is survived by his wife and two children; a private memorial service was held earlier this week.
Another fatality in this same area occurred March 22, 2014, when Omar Awaida, 13, of Long Beach, fell 300 feet to his death during an attempt to climb down to the Kaweah River. Awaida was on a backpacking trip with his two older brothers.
NPS personnel are advising that all persons refrain from going near the swollen rivers and creeks because nearby rocks are slippery and treacherous. The snowmelt-fed streams are currently icy-cold and swift, and once an unsuspecting individual is in the water, it’s nearly impossible to climb out unassisted.