An aide to U.S. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., was found dead Friday in Death Valley National Park, several days after he and his girlfriend were reported missing on a camping trip, authorities said.
Inyo County Sheriff’s Office rescuers reached district caseworker Alexander Lofgren, 32, and Emily Henkel, 27, about 11:40 a.m. PDT near Willow Creek inside the vast desert near the California-Nevada border, according to the agency.
They had been spotted by “aerial reconnaissance” on Thursday afternoon in “a very remote area” and “on a very steep ledge,” the sheriff’s office said. But “due to the extreme location,” rescuers who “rappelled down” the ledge were unable to reach the couple, according to authorities.
“It is unclear at this point what condition Lofgren and Henkel” were in on Thursday, the sheriff said.
Earlier that day, the couple’s white Subaru was found and a “note was located in the vehicle that read, `Two flat tires, headed to Mormon Point, have three days’ worth of water.’ This note proved to be a crucial tip in directing search efforts,” according to the sheriff.
By the time rescuers got to them on Friday, Lofgren was dead and Henkel was flown to Lemoore Naval Air Station for medical treatment. An investigation into Lofgren’s “cause and manner of death” is ongoing, according to the sheriff.
“This has been a tremendously difficult operation in a very unforgiving geographic area of Inyo County, I sincerely hope for healing and recovery for all involved,” Inyo County Sheriff Jeff Hollowell said in a statement.
Rescuers had been looking for Lofgren and Henkel since Tuesday after they failed to return from their camping trip on Sunday, officials said.
Lofgren was an Army a veteran who served in Afghanistan and worked in Grijalvas’ district office, according to the southern Arizona lawmaker.
“Words cannot begin to describe how heartbroken I am over the death of Alex Lofgren,” Grijalvas said in a statement.
“Alex will forever be a part of our family, and my heart is with his family, his loving partner Emily, and his colleagues who mourn him today.”
Daytime temperatures have been in the high 90s all week in Death Valley.
“Both Lofgren and Henkel are described as experienced campers,” the sheriff’s office had said during the search.
“Lofgren is believed to have jugs of water and at least one day’s worth of food as well as camping gear. Lofgren is known for camping in remote areas that are not designated campgrounds.”