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May hiker deaths blamed on heat

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May hiker deaths blamed on heat

Women suffered from heat exposure, medical examiner says

  • A 35-year-old German hiker died from the heat on May 21 at Saguaro National Park West.
    Ross Griff/FlickrA 35-year-old German hiker died from the heat on May 21 at Saguaro National Park West.

Southern Arizona's blazing heat last month is blamed for the deaths of two women during separate hiking incidents, the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office said Monday.

Chief Medical Examiner Gregory Hess confirmed that both women died from exposure to the heat while hiking in the county.

Sibylle Reitmeyer, 35, who was visiting the area from Fuldatal, Germany, was hiking in Saguaro National Park West on May 21 when she collapsed from heat exhaustion. On that day, the high temperature was a record-breaking 105 degrees.

Rescuers had to hike 2 1/2 miles to the Hugh Norris Trail to reach her. She was pronounced dead at the scene, said Sgt. Dawn Barkman, spokeswoman for the Pima County Sheriff's Department, at that time.

Hess said Reitmeyer's cause of death was recorded as "hyperthermia due to exposure" and that she had no chronic medical conditions.

Three days earlier, 23-year-old Amalia Barber, of Clinton, Ill., died while hiking with friends on a trail north of the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain hotel in Marana. On that day, the high temperature was 93 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Because of difficulties with cell phone service and lack of GPS on the hikers' phones, it took rescuers from the Sheriff's Department and Northwest Fire District about an hour to reach the victim after a 1 p.m. distress call, Barkman said.

Barber's cause of death also was recorded as hyperthermia, Hess said.

The Purdue University student was "a little heavy," but otherwise healthy, Hess said.

"Other than being heavy, everything looked OK," he said. "She probably just got into a bad situation due to the heat."

The Sheriff's Department has offered suggestions on avoiding heat-related illness:

  • Arrange outdoor activities before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. to avoid the worst heat of the day;
  • Always apply sunscreen before going out – wear a hat and light colored, loose fitting clothing made from "breathable" fabrics. Long sleeved shirts and pants will minimize fluid loss through perspiration;
  • Hydrate adequately. Drink at least one quart of fluid for each hour you are out doing physical activity. Water is best, but after extended periods of time outside, replenish with a "sports drink" for electrolyte replacement;
  • Plan activities to include others; do not hike or walk alone;
  • Carry a cell phone for emergencies;
  • Tell someone where you are going, when you will return, and what route(s) you will be taking.

Know the symptoms

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a common heat related condition. Possible warning signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • Extreme weakness
  • Exhaustion
  • Headache
  • Profuse sweating
  • Cool, moist, pale or red skin
  • Nausea and vomiting


Immediately get the victim into a cooler environment or out of the direct sun. Apply wet cloths and encourage sips of water unless nausea and vomiting occur. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol, they will only add to the dehydration already present. Medical attention should be sought out for these individuals; however, symptoms tend to correct themselves with proper care, intake of fluids, removing themselves from the sun, and resting.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is a serious life-threatening condition. Signs of heat stroke include:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Dry, hot, red skin
  • High body temperature
  • Rapid, shallow breathing


Heat stroke, which can be fatal, is the next step after heat exhaustion. Victims should be cooled off as quickly as possible by wrapping them in cool cloths. Ice packs should be packed in the armpits or groin area, if possible. Remove the heat stroke victim from direct sunlight immediately and into a cooler environment if at all possible. Medical attention should be sought out immediately and the victim should be taken to a hospital for evaluation.

Heat exhaustion may turn into heat stroke very rapidly; as soon as signs of heat exhaustion are identified, preventative measures should be taken so heat stroke will not occur.

Source: Pima County Sheriff's Department

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