Officials are investigating an incident surrounding a woman who reportedly entered the Yellowstone National Park illegally while the park is closed during the coronavirus pandemic and fell into the boiling waters near one of the park’s most famous thermal features.
A public affairs representative with the park told IFLScience that the woman fell into a thermal feature at Old Faithful while “backing up and taking photos”. It is not known at this time what thermal feature the woman fell into but she is known to have suffered burns. After falling into the feature, the person then drove north through the park and was contacted by park rangers about 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) south of Mammoth Hot Springs before being air ambulance flown to hospital.
“Due to her injuries, she was life-flighted to the Burn Center at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center,” said the spokesperson.
Old Faithful Geyser inspired the establishment of the Rocky Mountain Park in 1872 and has continued to be a staple for visitors from around the world. The geyser is one of almost 500 located within the park boundaries and one of the only features that park rangers can predict when an eruption will occur.
“It is uncommon to be able to predict geyser eruptions with regularity and Old Faithful has lived up to its name, only lengthening the time between eruptions by about 30 minutes in the last 30 years,” writes the park.
Eruptions of scalding-hot water stretching more than 55 meters (180 feet) into the sky are catalyzed by volcanic activity occurring beneath the surface. The park is no stranger to inappropriate, and oftentimes dangerous, behavior from tourists visiting from around the world. In September 2018, two viral videos posted to social media showed a man walking on Old Faithful Geyser, at one point appearing to lay down and put his hand into the hole. In 2016, a 23-year-old man was killed quickly (and then dissolved) after falling into one of the hot pools. Just a year later, a 21-year-old man survived a fall into the waist-deep waters of a hot spring north Old Faithful Geyser.
It’s not just the thermal features that pose a threat to inattentive visitors. In recent years, park officials have continuously had to warn the public not to invade the personal space of wild animals in the park after visitors have been attacked by elk, black bears, and bison.
Yellowstone National Park has been closed to visitors due to Covid-19 concerns since March 24, but is slated to begin reopening the park on a limited basis on May 18 at noon under a newly outlined three-phased plan. The park stretches through three states – Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming – that have each set their own state-mandated restrictions. Montana and Idaho currently have quarantine restrictions for out-of-state visitors.
“The park’s goal is to open safely and conservatively, to ensure we take the right actions to reduce risks to our employees and visitors, and help local economies begin to recover,” said Superintendent Cam Sholly in a statement. “I appreciate the cooperation we’ve had with our surrounding governors, counties, communities, and health officials in working through these challenging decisions. Our goal is to get the remaining entrances open as quickly and safely as possible.”
Until the park opens, park representatives encourage would-be visitors to catch an eruption in real-time via a livestream available here.