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Couple that died of extreme heat on hike were trying to save their baby, probe finds

The couple found dead on a Northern California hiking trail over the summer desperately tried to save their 1-year-old daughter before all three succumbed to extreme heat as temperatures soared to 109 degrees, investigators found.

British software engineer Jonathan Gerrish, 45, his wife Ellen Chung, 31, and their daughter, Miju were found dead of hyperthermia and dehydration on a remote Sierra National Forest hiking trail in August.

Their dog, Oski — an 8-year-old Australian shepherd and Akita mix — also died on the trail. 

Investigators now believe the couple was desperately seeking for medical help for Miju, before they themselves succumbed to the brutal temperatures, according to a new 77-page report obtained by The San Francisco Chronicle.

Officials ruled out several other factors for their deaths through the course of the investigation, including murder, lightning strikes, poisoning, illegal drugs and suicide.

A survival trainer wrote in an email to detectives that the parents more than likely panicked in their efforts to help the baby, who probably began suffering from symptoms first.
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A survival trainer wrote in an email to detectives that in all likelihood, the parents’ panicked efforts to help the baby — who likely began suffering from symptoms first — possibly led to their own deaths.

“Sadly, I believe they were caught off guard, and once they realized their situation, they died trying to save their child and each other,” the trainer wrote to detectives, according to The Chronicle. 

He called the mix of the terrain, elevation and heat a “deadly trifecta.”

Officials ruled out factors for their deaths such as murder or poison — as investigators believe the parents were just trying to save their daughter from the extreme temperatures.
Officials ruled out factors for their deaths such as murder or poison — as investigators believe the parents were just trying to save their daughter from the extreme temperatures.
AP

“It is likely the child began to succumb first, which hurried the parents’ efforts up the hill,” the trainer wrote. “When one could no longer continue, they stayed behind to care for the child and pet, while the other tried to forge on and get help for their loved ones. It is a tragedy of the highest order.”

The family was found dead on Aug. 17 about 1.6 miles from the trailhead of the Savage Lundy Trail, two days after they took off on the trek.

The couple only brought about 85 ounces of water with them, despite a recommendation from a US Forest Service volunteer that adults bring 160 ounces of water each, and 16 ounces for an infant and dog, the report said.

Forest
A US Forest Service volunteer recommended that adults bring 160 ounces of water each, and 16 ounces for an infant and dog — however, the couple only brought about 85 ounces of water with them.
AP

Water testing from the nearby Merced River indicated it was contaminated with Anatoxin A, a lethal toxin produced by blue-green algae — prompting the Bureau of Land Management to close campgrounds and recreation areas along a 28-mile swath of the river. However authorities found no indication that the family drank any of the water. 

“Our hearts will never forget the beautiful lives of Jonathan, Ellen, Miju, and, of course, Oski,” the family said in a statement in August. “They will remain with us wherever we go.”

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