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June 2007

Freefall: Tragedy in the Grand Canyon

Arizona's Havasu Canyon is a hiker's paradise famed for its jaw-dropping waterfalls. But now there's trouble in paradise—serious trouble.

Searchers interviewed tourists along the Falls Trail and in the campground. They went below the campground to check out places Hanamure might have explored on a dayhike. Supai was at the peak of its busy season, with hundreds of campers and the lodge fully booked. But no one reported seeing Hanamure at the falls or campground. Her rental car offered no clues. The only information extracted from the village was that Hanamure had been observed walking with a tall man who appeared to be Asian, and visiting the café with a red-haired, heavily tattooed man with an Irish accent.

On the fourth day of the operation, a tribal member swimming near Fifty Foot Falls spotted a female body submerged in the blue-green water, and reported the location to authorities. Officials couldn’t legally identify the body until an autopsy was performed. But law enforcement at the scene knew it was Hanamure, and knew she had been murdered.The corpse was riddled with stab wounds.

Officers pronounced the woman dead at the scene at 2:45 p.m. on May 13, 2006. The SAR crew was flown down to help with the extraction, and an FBI dive team came in to scour the pool for evidence. Investigators tied yellow crime-scene tape around bushes along the trail and the creek at Fifty Foot Falls, a known gathering spot for village youth. Officers placed Hanamure’s remains in a body bag and carried it to the village, where the Arizona DPS helicopter waited. Search members flying out that day remember a film crew for the Travel Channel headed down the same switchbacks that Hanamure had descended five days earlier. The crew was there to film a program called Grand Canyon: Nature’s Great Escape.

Since state regulations prohibit the transport of corpses inside DPS choppers, Hanamure was strapped on a litter that was suspended from a cable. With her shrouded body dangling below, the helicopter climbed 3,000 feet through the orange, red, green, and ivory geologic strata.

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