Wednesday, August 31, 2011


One subject that I've been really meaning to cover, largely due to its importance to travelers to desert regions, is the tragic death of a European couple, Augustinus Van Hove, aged 44, and Helena Nuellett, aged 38, a Dutch music promoter and his German girlfriend, respectively. It is estimated that the couple were victims of desert heat exposure while visiting the Joshua Tree National Park ( on or about August 24.

From information available, the couple was in a rented sedan and apparently took a
remote, dirt road in the hope of driving to Arizona. Nearly seven hours later, a couple visiting the park found Van Hove's body on the edge of Black Eagle Mine Road. Sheriff's deputies later found Nuellett's body about a kilometer from Van Hove. The black Dodge Charger the couple had rented was found stuck and stranded about 8km away on the same road, which is generally impassable for non-4-wheel vehicles Temperatures during the day topped 41°c.

Joshua Tree National Park covers an area of 3,100 square kilometers, which also encompasses parts of the Mojave and Colorado deserts.

COMMENT: The secondary road that the couple was traveling on had posted signs warning drivers that it should only be used by four-wheel drive vehicles because they might run into soft sand. It is possible that the couple was attempting to walk for help when they succumbed from the heat. Given the high temperatures that can ensue at Joshua Tree, park management recommends one gallon of water per day per person. Their bodies were found 2km from each other.

Although autopsies have been conducted on the couple, toxicology reports will not be available for another three weeks.

Following the deaths of Mr. Van Hove and Ms. Nuellett, Joshua Tree park managers met to discuss how they could better inform the public, particularly foreign visitors, on the inherent risks in traveling in the park. Although brochures on dealing with the intense heat and the importance of hydration were already included in Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish for park visitors, the park has highlighted this information in various forms. In 2010, there were no deaths in the park, but thus far in 2011 there have been four.

It is a fact that cell phone coverage is very poor throughout most of Joshua Tree. Hence, and particularly in light of the size of the park, it is vital that visitors ensure they have mobile GPS units so as to reduce the risk of getting lost.

Unfortunately, the road the couple took would not be subject to frequent park patrols as would primary roads. Generally, visitors who become lost are urged to remain in their vehicles, as walking to find help will only expend them further.

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