French Couple Dies In U.S. Desert, Sacrifice Last Water To Save Son

Park officials discovered a French family, a couple and their 9-year-old son, in the New Mexico desert.

The son narrowly survived, thanks to his parents last minute water rationing, but the father and mother both died of heat-related illness.

Otero County Sheriff Benny House told CNN, “I just think they underestimated the desert.”

The couple – David and Ornella Steiner (pictured below) – was hiking on the Alkali Flat Trail in the White Sands National Monument with their son on Tuesday.

The desert trail reached a temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) and the family was critically unprepared.

The French couple carried just two 20-ounce bottles of water for the three family members when the recommended amount is 64 ounces per person, according to the National Park Service. When park officials arrived, those two bottle were bone dry.

They made it about 1.4 miles into the 2.5 mile hike when Ornella Steiner, 51, tumbled. She complained about the heat and pain in her knee and started to head back to the car. She only made it about 300 feet before collapsing.

The father, 42, and his son, named Enzo, according to the Telegraph, continued walking unaware that the mother died. David Steiner became delirious and led his son off of the trail.

Sheriff House explained “the heat was affecting his judgment.”

“He kept telling the son that the vehicle is ‘right over here, right over here,'”

They made it another 2,000 feet before the French man collapsed and died.

The boy was also dehydrated, but fared much better than the couple. The officials report that for every one sip of water the parents took, they gave Enzo two. The extra water rationing likely saved the son’s life.

The Sheriff explained he found the father and boy about 45 minutes after discovering the mother’s body.

“He wasn’t crying… but he was dehydrated and of course he was upset.”

Park officials found the mother first, and wouldn’t have even known to look for the father and boy if they hadn’t seen pictures of the couple at the park’s entrance on Ornella’s camera.

The authorities took the young boy to a hospital, contacted the French consulate, and found an interpreter (Enzo doesn’t speak any English). On Sunday, he was finally reunited with his grandmother at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, according to MSN.

The French couple aren’t the first people to succumb to the Alkali Trail. In 2009, an American woman died as well as a Japanese tourist in 2011.

Tourists risk the heat to see the incredible white sand dunes described as “one of the world’s great natural wonders.”

White Sand National Monument superintendent Marie Sauter explained it’s also an incredibly harsh environment.

“There is no shade. There is no cover. You are out exposed to the sun, the wind, the heat, the reflection of the sun off the white sand. It’s a harsh desert environment.”

The French couple’s harrowing story will hopefully remind other tourists about the park’s dangers.

[Image Credit: M.Bucka/Wikimedia Commons]