Authors join forces for book<br>on Grand Canyon tragedies

GC VILLAGE — Tom Myers, a veteran Grand Canyon adventurer on river and trail, was on a long hike a few years back when he saw Michael Ghiglieri coming down the Colorado. A river runner and hiker himself with 1,500-plus days in the backcountry, Ghiglieri invited Myers aboard for a short ride, shoving off at River Mile 65.

Tom Myers signs a copy of the book he co-authored with Michael Ghiglieri.

Three miles later, the two got the idea into their heads that writing a book together about deaths at Grand Canyon would be an interesting project. In fact, both had the thought of writing such a book before, but realized just how much work it would encompass.

"I had been thinking for a few years that it would be too much work by myself," said Ghiglieri, who served as an emergency medical technician on many inner canyon accidents. "We were both fired up about the idea."

Myers, a longtime rim dweller and physician at the village clinic, had vast experience in the area of Grand Canyon emergencies as well. A few years and several drafts later, "Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon" would hit the bookstores.

"It started for me with the river accident study 10 years ago," said Myers, who co-authored "Fateful Journey: Injury and Death on Colorado River Trips," an analytical look at river accidents over the years. "The big book on the entire Grand Canyon seemed to be too overwhelming."

The pair’s book appears to be a big hit after only five weeks on the market. In fact, a second printing is already being planned because the first run of 4,000 books are dwindling.

"Over the Edge" is more than a collection about all of the misfortunate deaths in the grand gorge. It also includes several stories with happy endings.

"Tom kept coming up with these near-miss stories ... and I realized, we have no suspense (in the book)," Ghiglieri said. "That made the book readable and it made the book really upbeat. And there are some big lessons to be learned."

One of the underlying themes of the book is how a string of events can lead to a fatality. Oftentimes, these situations tend to involve underprepared or unknowledgeable hikers or river runners.

In all, there are chapters on falls from the rim and within the Canyon, deaths due to the elements, flash floods, deaths and accidents on the river, airplane and helicopter crashes, freak accidents of nature, suicides and murder. To conclude each chapter, the book lists every death on a case-by-case basis with details such as the victims’ ages, the circumstances and the incident’s date and location.

Each author has stories that stand out in their minds. Writing about 15-year-old David Phillips and the 1996 Boy Scout hike in Little Nankoweap Canyon gets to Ghiglieri.

For Myers, two stand out in his mind — the heat stroke death of 10-year-old Phillip Grim in 1996 and the murder of 31-year-old Antonio Castillo, stabbed in the chest at a 1996 Christmas party in Tusayan. Myers was the doctor on both of those cases.

The self-published authors have been given warm receptions at book signings and readings in Flagstaff and Grand Canyon. During the latter, the pair personalized the program with "Over the Edge" awards.

• Jerry Chavez, the Phantom Ranch pumphouse operator, for his efforts during a 1995 flash flood.

• Bryan Wisher, ranger, for his efforts with flash floods.

• Ken Phillips, Search and Rescue, for offering a river accident survivor his lunch during a 1991 incident.

• Bil Vandergraff, ranger, for a light situation on the hot trail involving a woman and a rectal thermometer.

• Donny Miller, ranger, for his part in the 1992 manhunt of fugitive Danny Ray Horning.

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