Earlier this year in August, a human foot was found floating in a shoe in a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. It was first spotted by a park employee and has since been under investigation. Now, officials say they’ve identified the owner of the foot using DNA.
The unusual story first unfolded in the Abyss Pool that sits to the west of the West Thumb Geyser Basin in the southern part of the park. In a release, the park stated that the incident likely occurred on the morning of July 31, 2022, and involved just one individual.
Exactly how the foot came to be in the geyser isn’t known, though it’s not expected that foul play was involved. Authorities have since been able to identify the owner of the foot as Il Hun Ro, a 70-year-old man from Los Angeles, California.
"The investigation determined, to the best of our knowledge, that an unwitnessed incident involving one individual happened on the morning of July 31, 2022, at Abyss Pool, and no foul play occurred," park officials said in a statement.
"Based on a lack of evidence, the circumstances surrounding the death of Ro remain unknown."
It’s not the first time that Yellowstone’s geysers have claimed a life, with a similar death occurring in June 2016. A 23-year-old man had left the designated path while walking near the Norris Geyser Basin and subsequently fallen in. Officials tried to retrieve his body from the geyser, but it soon became apparent that apart from the few personal effects there was nothing left to retrieve because his body had dissolved.
Yellowstone’s geysers are so deadly because the park sits on top of an enormous magma source. There are 10,000 thermal features in the park that are fed by acidic groundwater that rises up as a result of high pressure and heat. The end result is pools of extremely hot and acidic water, with the average temperature of the water sitting at 93°C (199°F), though it can get much, much higher.
More than 20 people are known to have died in Yellowstone’s thermal features, and many more have suffered extreme burns after slipping into pools by accident. The threat to human life is why the park has established pathways for safely exploring the site of natural beauty, but that didn’t stop one person from straying from the path to cook up a couple of chickens (also a big no-no).
Yellowstone is also home to bison, magnificent but massive animals who don’t always take kindly to onlookers and have on occasion gored them to death. As such, it’s strongly advised that visitors leave the bison (and bears, wolves etc) well alone and put as much distance between themselves and the animals should they cross paths.
For more tips on exploring Yellowstone safely, visit the park’s website.