A young man fell waist-deep and was in critical condition.
A 21-year-old man from North Carolina, Gervais Dylan Gatete, reportedly fell into the Yellowstone hot springs earlier this month and suffered severe burns as a result. He was with a group of seven other people and, although it’s unclear how he fell in, he’s extremely lucky to be alive considering most others that slip into the springs die fairly quickly.
The hot springs at Yellowstone National Park are equally beautiful and lethal, as beneath the park lies one of the world’s largest magma chambers, which heats the springs and causes it to be highly acidic. Officials have likened the acidity to that of stomach acid, which quickly breaks down all organic material and adds to the suffering of those that fall in and burn from the high temperatures.
There are several basins in the park and Gatete fell into the Lower Geyser Basin, which is about 18 square miles and almost as large as the island of Manhattan. People speculate that the group must have strayed from the trail, despite the numerous signs warning them not to, and that Gatete probably stood on the fragile edge until he lost his footing as the rocks crumbled beneath him.
Since he managed to only fall in waist-deep, there’s a chance he was able to climb out himself, although he was lucky to have a group with him to bring him back to their car. The group attempted to drive out of the park in search for medical help but wound up signaling a ranger for help around midnight, at which point Gatete was airlifted to the nearest hospital.
“Yellowstone’s thermal features are dangerous,” Superintendent Dan Wenk said. “We continually stress that people must stay on trails and boardwalks in geyser basins, not only to protect resources, but for their own safety.”
Gatete isn’t the only person to have fallen into one of the hot springs, and as recently as last year another man slipped into the Norris Basin Geyser and wound up dying. Officials believe that the man was purposefully trying to feel the heat of the springs by likely just putting his finger in before he also lost his footing and became submerged. The 23-year-old was found dead later that day but rangers weren’t able to reach him at that time and returned the next day after a thunderstorm descended on the area that night. When the officials returned, the man had completely dissolved and none of his body nor belongings remained.
Yellowstone’s geothermal ponds, pools, and geysers can reach an average of 199 degrees Fahrenheit on the surface alone, and the water just a few feet down can be much hotter. Park rangers urge visitors to be careful when visiting and stay on the trails because the ground in hydrothermal areas is fragile and thin, and there is scalding water just below the surface.
That’s why it’s amazing that Gatete only fell in waist-deep and was able to get out before sustaining fatal injuries. A hospital spokesperson said that after Gatete had arrived, he was in critical but stable condition, although there haven’t been any updates released since then. His accident is the first this year to occur in the thermal areas.