Three perish in separate accidents in Sequoia-Kings Canyon during September



The body of William “Billy” Nguyen, a second-year kinesiology student from San Jose State University, was recovered Sunday, Sept. 18, from the bottom of Eagle Lake in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park. Nguyen, 19, was one of a group of 21 SJSU students in Mineral King on a backpacking trip with the campus-based Outdoor Adventures program. 

One of six student leaders among the group, on Saturday, Sept. 17, Nguyen reportedly struggled and sank below the surface while he and others were attempting to swim to a large rock that protrudes near the western shore of the alpine lake. Others in the party attempted to rescue the victim and used a SPOT device to notify park personnel that Nguyen had apparently drowned.

Three rangers made the 3.5-mile hike from the Mineral King valley to the lake, but they were hindered in their search by nightfall. The next day, rangers donned wetsuits and snorkel gear to recover the body. A helicopter provided eyes in the sky that aided in the search and recovery.

Details are sketchy as to how or why Nguyen drowned. The victim was a personal trainer and reportedly in excellent physical shape and not a risk-taker.

Lack of oxygen at Eagle Lake’s elevation of 10,010 feet and the 52-degree water temperature can cause shock to the muscles, including the heart. The Tulare County Coroner determined the cause of death to be freshwater drowning.  



The body of Alfred Kwok, 50, was recovered from the southwestern face of Deerhorn Mountain on Wednesday, Sept. 21. Kwok, who lived in Claremont, was an associate professor of physics and astronomy and member of the Pomona College faculty since 2000.

Based on interviews with people who knew his itinerary, Kwok was planning on hiking solo from Onion Valley in the Inyo National Forest into Kings Canyon National Park via Kearsarge Pass. An avid climber, he had planned to ascend Deerhorn Mountain and return to the Onion Valley trailhead on Sunday, Sept. 18.

The round-trip from Onion Valley is a distance of 27 miles with an elevation gain of 8,500 feet. Deerhorn Mountain, at 13,270 feet, is located about two miles west of the Pacific Crest and John Muir trails.   

When Kwok failed to return as planned, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department received a missing person’s call. Inyo County issued an all points be-on-the-lookout, notifying Park Service dispatchers on Tuesday, Sept. 20. 

On that same day, at about 1:50 p.m., a helicopter participating in the search spotted a body on the upper southwest face of the mountain. The body was recovered the next day, transferred to the Tulare County Coroner’s Office, and positively identified as Kwok.

A total of 16 National Park Service staff assisted in the search and recovery. The cause and circumstances of Kwok’s death are under investigation. 



A 30-year-old female who died while climbing the ridge between Mounts Darwin and Haeckel in the Kings Canyon backcountry on Wednesday, Sept. 7, has been identified. Julia MacKenzie of Alameda succumbed to a fall while climbing with a companion. MacKenzie was a nurse at San Francisco General Hospital. She was an experienced climber. 

A picnic in her memory is planned for Saturday, Oct. 2, at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.



There have been eight fatalities in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks this year, three of which occurred within the past few weeks. 

Patricia  Bayza, 53, of Santa Clarita was discovered deceased in her room at Wuksachi Lodge (Sequoia) on Thursday, March 24. 

David Hallinan, 53, of Santa Monica died Thursday, May 12, after he fell while backpacking at Panther Creek on the Middle Fork Trail (Sequoia).

Cory Proud, 26, of Tustin died Friday May 20, while backpacking at Mehrten Creek on the High Sierra Trail (Sequoia) due to a pre-existing medical condition.

John Lee, 68, of Redlands died Tuesday, July 19, after he fell while off-trail near Mount Whitney in Sequoia.

Ryan Pineda, 19, of Hanford died Friday, July 29, when he fell while hiking with his family on the Muir Grove Trail in Sequoia.

Julia MacKenzie, 30, of Alameda died Wednesday, Sept. 7, after she fell while climbing with a companion on the Evolution Traverse (Mount Haeckel) in Kings Canyon.

Billy Nguyen, 19, of San Jose drowned in Eagle Lake in the Mineral King area of Sequoia on Saturday, Sept. 17.

Alfred Kwok, 50, of Claremont, died on or before Sunday, Sept. 18, when he fell during a solo climb of Deerhorn Mountain just north of Forester Pass in Kings Canyon.

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