CA - Jonathan Gerrish, Ellen Chung, daughter, 1 & dog, suspicious death hiking area, Aug 2021 #4

Discussion in 'Up to the Minute' started by dalsglen, Aug 18, 2021.

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  1. whirrledpeas

    whirrledpeas Well-Known Member

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    I’m not a medical examiner and cannot answer your question to the extent that one could but I did intern at the ME’s office for two semesters so I have knowledge of their work and how far they will or will not go when testifying to something.

    The answer is yes, there are formulas and all kinds of things forensic pathologists use to determine possible time of death for each individual. But, no medical examiner would be able to pinpoint the exact time with 100% certainty in THIS case based off of the information we have right now. Science and medicine are not as exact as we think it is. Hope that helps!
     
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  2. Lex Parsimoniae

    Lex Parsimoniae Well-Known Member

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    As a map-a-holic, I like 'em all. Paper maps are great, I like big maps and I cannot lie. I only take paper maps on hikes, but I usually have printed them from an electronic source. I have topo maps for the whole of California on my computer, with tools for measuring distance and elevation gain. Or I'll print the relevant part of a park map.
     
  3. moonriverfarm

    moonriverfarm Well-Known Member

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    Pumphouse363, what do you think happened?
     
  4. Curious_in_NC

    Curious_in_NC Well-Known Member

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    Hi fellow map lovers! @MrsEmmaPeel can you explain in more detail what you are describing as "aggregate location data"? Some apps such as Strava create segments from user-supplied GPS tracks but then they overlay these onto existing maps, such as those in OpenStreetMap/Mapbox in the case of Strava. AllTrails uses the same map service. Is this what you mean?

    I kind of thought most internet map data were derived from cartographer's work, at least initially. Back in the old days, when people paid good money for maps and atlases, I knew a cartographer in Vermont. He said that they always added seemingly innocuous "mistakes" to their maps to make sure that their copyrighted maps weren't being copied by others. I used to live near such a nonexistent road that later ended up on many internet maps. It's still there on Googlemaps. I've since found several others like it, but fortunately these were all "roads" and not wilderness trails.

    I'm not suggesting there was a map error involved with the family here, but the way online trail maps are created now seems like a mix between satellite data, open source/user data, government data, and older out-of-copyright maps. OpenStreetMap - Wikipedia
     
  5. minazoe

    minazoe Well-Known Member

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    Welcome Pumphouse 363! Welcome to Websleuths.

    Sorry about the conditions under which you join us. I am of the opinion also that the hike seems out of character. I think thats why everyone is so concerned about it and want to get to the bottom of it and make sure someone didn't hurt them or if there is a danger to others caused by nature.

    I don't know how well you knew them but I am sorry for your loss. It must be a shock.

    mOO
     
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  6. MrsEmmaPeel

    MrsEmmaPeel Well-Known Member

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    @Curious_in_NC I went to AllTrails to read about how they get their trails. That's where I found some gibberish (to me) about aggregate data. As I remember, topo maps for hiking and for very detailed state atlases relied on old-fashioned cartography and governmental surveys. Of course there was human error, but the maps were in print and subject to continual revision by people who used them and cared about accuracy. The Texas driving atlas I used was quite expensive and the publishing company had bought the rights to it. I never found an inaccuracy in it, from all my driving on secondary and tertiary roads. The trouble I've found with gps is that we expect it to be MORE accurate. It also comes with little context as we zoom in and THINK we've getting important detail. What we don't get is a deeper idea of surrounding area and topography. What I call context. My children don't have an overriding idea of the cities they've lived in. They don't get the system or fabric of it as an entity. They don't need to because GPS guides them.

    This is an old lady's idea of how we perceive what's around us. GPS maps make us feel in control. They make the world seem easily navigated, no matter where you are. I guarantee if you could see the paper atlas map I have of the Devil's Gulch area, the isolation is awe-inspiring. And it's just a crummy gas station atlas, not even a topo map.

    Google and other digital maps may have relied on cartography in the beginning (and in a sense, they are a form of cartography) but I believe they are now all satellite based. If they are aggregate, they derive from various satellite mapping systems. I am not an expert, and I hope someone here may be to explain better.

    What I do know is this: apps like AllTrails make wilderness seem less wild. That is a danger, imho. Context, not detail and random comments of dayhikers, is what matters. Not to mention, a topo map never goes out of range or loses service.
     
  7. Pumphouse363

    Pumphouse363 Well-Known Member

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    I have friends living in Merced not far from Mariposa who have never heard of the Savage Lundy Trail until this terrible tragedy occurred. There doesn’t appear to a great many people online who have actually recorded taking the SL trail either. It seems strange that since this incident happened there have been few, if any, people recalling their own experiences of that trail , considering Sherrif Briesy said it’s so popular.
     
  8. MrsEmmaPeel

    MrsEmmaPeel Well-Known Member

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    Here's the area of the accident from my crummy gas station atlas. I believe the trail is visible. (not sure) But you can see Devil('s) Gulch. scale on original: 1 in = 5 mi. Please understand this is not the kind of map I'm talking about for hiking. It's just a road map I have on hand.
     

    Attached Files:

  9. MrsEmmaPeel

    MrsEmmaPeel Well-Known Member

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    @Pumphouse363 There is a Mariposa Hiking Trails group member on FB who was quoted, I believe (it's way back in the thread) as saying they do not visit, hike, or work on the Savage Lundy trail in the summer. You may want to look for that group if you're on FB.
     
  10. MrsEmmaPeel

    MrsEmmaPeel Well-Known Member

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    last bit of map arcana. page from my atlas. fwiw.
     

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  11. MrsEmmaPeel

    MrsEmmaPeel Well-Known Member

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    @Pumphouse363 I believe most of us here agree and sympathize with you, about wanting to know the why. The thing is, Websleuths is very committed to not blaming or shaming the victims of crime. Its reputation is built on this rule. However, the Gerrish-Chung case, imho, is different. There is no crime against them, it seems. There appear only to be errors in judgement or mistakes made. As the Mod has stated, we most likely will never know why this happened. If we stay in the sphere of trying to understand as opposed to posing theories which blame or shame the victims, I believe we're in safe territory. MOO -- which means my own opinion.
     
  12. Pumphouse363

    Pumphouse363 Well-Known Member

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    I am unable to say what I think happened - yet!
     
  13. JamieLogical

    JamieLogical Active Member

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    For anyone who has a hard time visualizing how steep the trail was just from the 2D topographic maps, I highly recommend viewing the trail in Google Earth and panning around the camera to get a sense of the altitude change:

    Google Earth

    Also, as others have pointed out, Google Earth and Google Maps both use satellite images that predate the 2018 fire. Bing has images that more clearly illustrate how barren the area where they were found was after the fire:

    Maps
     
  14. Blackkettle

    Blackkettle Member

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    Hi all. This is my first WS post. It’s an exceptionally long one, but I wanted to be thorough about the…

    FIVE ATTACHED ANIMATED WEATHER SATELLITE GIF’s… and what they reveal.

    I’ve been closely monitoring and researching the details of this case, and though I’ve only had time to scan a few pages of thread #1, I’ve carefully read ALL the posts from threads #2 thru until now, considering all the theories, opinions, and enigmas that revolve around this tragic story.

    My main purpose here is to provide the attached weather GIFs to WS users, so the details they reveal can be assessed, and lastly to share a few observations I have about them.

    The GIFs provide a deeper dive into the weather on the day of Jonathan & Ellen’s hike which - as can be seen - indicate that conditions for possible electrical and/or lightning events became VERY LIKELY later in the afternoon to evening. This raises some interesting considerations, as will be addressed later in this post.

    None of the GIFs provide AIR TEMPERATURE at ground level unfortunately as they’re satellite based instruments primarily focused on cloud density, height, movement, temperatures aloft. These however provide vital clues by which other conditions on the ground may be extrapolated.

    Like many on this forum, my first impressions of the case - given the heat index for that day and the excruciating nature of the switchbacks on the Savage-Lundy climb, was that death by heatstroke was a distinct, and seemingly likely, cause.

    Like many too, I’ve scratched my head as to WHY J & E would have “sensibly” attempted that brutal switchback climb in the heat of that particular day. Every available piece of background on Jonathan and Ellen indicates they were savvy, resourceful, and INTELLEGENT people.

    If an urgent need to climb the switchbacks to reach their truck – in spite of the heat – was brought on by a life-or-death need to get the baby (or the dog) to help, then it’s at least understandable, if lamentable, why they might have pushed themselves to the brink of death. But barring a life-threatening issue, I feel that given the heat of the day (MOO) they were – MOST LIKELY – smarter than that.

    And it should be considered that when preparing for the hike, had they used a weather app with their home area (i.e. zip code 95338) as the forecast location, the highs that day would have been predicted to only be in the upper 90’s. The recorded high at the Jerseydale weather station (ID: JSD Elev. 3,900), closest to their home, was 97 degrees at 2pm. Leaving at 8AM on a 7.1 mile hike which they may have estimated would take about 4 hours would have put them back at their truck by noon. The weather station at JSD recorded the noon temperature at 94 degrees. (See: JERSEYDALE (JSD) )

    It should also be considered that the often touted “109 degree heat” was the recorded high at the El Portal Station ONLY (ID: EPW at 2,070 feet in elevation), whose station sits on a south facing slope in the Merced River Canyon. No other weather stations within dozens of miles around the area reported a high anywhere near that extreme that day. Even the station at the El Portal water Treatment Plant (ID: X04) only reported a high of 105, and that station is only 2 miles downriver from EPW.

    I checked over a dozen other weather reporting stations in the area for the day, but only the two at El Portal, some six miles north of the family’s hiking location reported anything much above 100 that day. Whether the El Portal stations registered abnormally high due the microclimate in the canyon where they are located is not certain. But I feel we cannot be entirely be sure what the EXACT temperatures were like for J & E during any part of their hike. It was HOT throughout the region that day for sure, but categorically assuming it was as hot as 109 (as opposed to say 101) for them at a given hike juncture simply cannot be backed up by any direct evidence.

    (For historic temperature recordings for a given area in California (used above), see the CDEC Station Locator map at Web Map Viewer and use the “Query Tools” menu link and station ID/date to find historic data).

    The point here is that J & E, with their extensive history of hiking, frequently honed experience, seemingly good physiques, and plenty of youthful enthusiasm, undoubtedly felt they would be fine. It’d be a work-out yes. But that was likely the point. And according to statements attributed LE they appeared to have been “well prepared”.

    So something has always nagged at me: If heatstroke were indeed the primary cause, the close proximity of their bodies (including baby & dog) feels problematic. Though certain “heat-based” scenarios can be imagined that resulted in how the bodies were found, in terms of “only heatstroke as a cause”, something (MOO) has always felt a little “off” about it.

    Nonetheless, from an Occam’s Razor POV, heatstroke “seems” to be the most likely explanation.

    That said… this is a very unusual case with a rarely seen outcome. So it follows that a “rarely seen” explanation could very possibly be afoot.

    So… that brings up the satellite data. Lightning? Was it possible? Were conditions ripe for it?

    I wanted to find out.

    The idea of some sort of “mass electrocution” event – albeit a MUCH, MUCH rarer event than heatstroke, is not unheard of. UNLESS of course, conditions were not favorable to such an event.

    In Norway in 2016 some 323 reindeer were killed in one fell swoop by lightning. Strange yes, but it happens: How exactly did lightning kill 323 reindeer in Norway?

    As it turns out, based on the evidence in the attached GIF’s, conditions were VERY CONSISTENT - and arguably, VERY LIKELY - that lightning was not only present in the area but very possibly immediately overhead and surrounding their location in the LATTER part of the day.

    As will be seen in the GIF’s below, two large storm cells did indeed roll directly over the switchbacks, the first one very late in the afternoon around 5PM-ish, and second just before sunset at around 7:30PM. Each of these two cells were initially generated over Yosemite’s central valley, and then each moved swiftly toward the WSW and DIRECTLY OVER the Savage-Lundy trail area.

    The attached GIF’s were generated at www.weather.us , whose easily searchable database for various types of satellite data is extensive. (Be advised, it requires a paid monthly subscription to view animations or generate GIFs, but for anyone researching past weather events, the fee is nominal).

    Here’s some brief technical info on the animations in general, then a quick rundown of each file in terms of what type of data they contain and what to watch for…

    ----------------------------------

    ~ Each GIF has the Gerrish-Chung location (the SL switchbacks) MARKED WITH A DOT IN THE CENTER. I carefully marked this location by overlaying a semi-transparent GIF frame onto a Google Earth screenshot in Photoshop, carefully aligning the Mariposa County border, roads, and rivers, and then marking the spot. I am confident (given the large geographic extent of each GIF) this is very close their discovered location.

    ~ Sunset on August 15, 2021 at the Savage-Lundy trail was at 7:54 PM.

    ~ GIF’s #01 thru #04 (visible clouds, water vapor, cloud tops, infrared respectively) begin at 1pm and cover the next 8 hours, ending after dark at 9pm. There are 4 frames per second, with a 5-minute real-time interval between frames.

    ~ GIF #05 (doppler radar) begins at 12pm (when the first precipitation appears in the area) and extends for 9 hours, ending at 9pm. There are two frames per second, with a 10-minute real-time interval between frames.

    ~ Each frame has the California local time – i.e. Pacific Daylight Time or “PDT” at the lower right corner of the screen for reference.

    ~ All files are below 6.5MB, but it may take a few seconds to load each...

    (Gerrish-Chung location is THE DOT at the center...)

    --------------------

    01-Satellite-Visible-Clouds-Color.gif
    WHAT IT IS:
    This is the visible cloud movement as seen by a color satellite camera at 1k per pixel resolution. It’s how the clouds would generally appear to the naked eye from orbit. Cloud formations can be seen to develop and evolve. You can see each individual cloud grow, develop, and die off.
    WHAT TO WATCH FOR: At 4:20PM a large and distinctly dark shadow begins to rise out of Yosemite Valley and develop quickly into a storm cell that moves swiftly to the WSW and over the family’s location. At 5:50PM another large cell evolves above the Yosemite Valley and moves in the same direction. I will henceforth refer to these as “CELL 1” and “CELL 2” respectively.

    01-Satellite-Visible-Clouds-Color.gif
    [​IMG]


    --------------------

    02-Satellite-Water-Vapor.gif
    WHAT IT IS:
    This view shows the moisture in the upper atmosphere right around 30,000 feet. This enables us to see a variety of weather features in the UPPER atmosphere including disturbances that can spark big thunderstorms. Because it doesn’t use the sun’s radiation to produce its images, you can see it both day and night.
    WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Notice how Cell 1 and Cell 2 move directly toward - and are soon centered over - the Gerrish-Chung location at 5:25PM and 7:50PM respectively.

    02-Satellite-Water-Vapor.gif
    [​IMG]


    --------------------

    03-Satellite-Cloud-Tops-Alert.gif
    WHAT IT IS:
    This view shows the temperature of whatever the satellite is looking at including clouds, land, or water. The temperature is displayed on a color scale indicating increasingly colder cloud tops and thus very strong storms that can reach all the way up to the stratosphere. Greys and whites indicate warmer clouds as well as clear weather with no clouds at all. Because this view utilizes infrared radiation to produce its images as opposed to radiation from the sun, you can see it both day and night.
    WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Like the water vapor images, Cell 1 and Cell 2 move quickly toward the WSW and are soon directly centered over the Gerrish-Chung location at around 5:25PM and 7:55PM respectively.

    03-Satellite-Cloud-Tops-Alert.gif
    [​IMG]


    --------------------

    04-Satellite-Infrared.gif
    WHAT IT IS:
    Similar to the vapor and cloud top data, this view shows the temperature of whatever the satellite is looking at including clouds, land, or water. The temperature is displayed on a gray scale with bright whites indicating very cold cloud tops and thus very strong storms that reach all the way up to the stratosphere. Darker grays indicate warmer clouds as well as clear weather with no clouds at all. Because this view utilizes infrared radiation to produce its images as opposed to radiation from the sun, you can see it both day and night.
    WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Like the water vapor and cloud top images, Cell 1 and Cell 2 move quickly toward the WSW and are soon directly centered over the Gerrish-Chung location at around 5:25PM and 7:55PM respectively.

    04-Satellite-Infrared.gif
    [​IMG]


    --------------------

    05-Doppler-Radar.gif
    WHAT IT IS:
    This is your standard radar reflectivity data that shows precipitation or other solid/liquid particles in the atmosphere.
    WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Though a small cell of precipitation passes to the SE of the Gerrish-Chung location around 3pm, the much larger precipitation from Cell 1 is closest at around 7PM, some 90 minutes after the center of the cell producing the rain was centered over their location. This indicates the precipitation from this cell was concentrated primarily on the trailing east-to-southeasterly edge of the cell. The precipitation from cell 2 appears to diminish altogether before reaching their vicinity. This may be due to the sun having set by then. Both however appear to grow and then loiter slightly in an area to the SE of the Gerrish-Chung location. This corresponds to approximately where 6,989 foot high Devils Peak is. This makes sense as the peak would naturally have deflected moisture laden air upward, resulting in rainfall. Though the rain came very close to them at times, in the entire 9-hour sequence, no appreciable amount of rain appears to have reached the Gerrish-Chung location, at least any that was recorded by the radar returns. Nonetheless, it’s clear from the other satellite data that the active cells that generated this “trailing edge” rainfall (and their potential for dry lightning events) passed squarely over the family that day.

    05-Doppler-Radar.gif
    [​IMG]


    --------------------

    Some Final Thoughts and Observations:

    1. Based on the satellite evidence conditions consistent for lightning events to have occurred were present above and around the family. The satellite data indicates beyond any shadow of doubt, two active and highly convective storm cells passed over the Savage-Lundy trail and were generally centered over it at 5:25pm and 7:55PM.

    2. That if a lightning event indeed befell the family, it is most likely to have occurred from Cell 1 (5:25PM-ish) at the earliest, as the minor cell that passed by their location around 3PM did not register any appreciable upper atmospheric activity on the satellite vapor, cloud top, or infrared images. Whether the 3PM cell WAS a strong enough cell to generate lightning is perhaps unknowable. But based on the lack of upper atmospheric activity like the latter two cells clearly display, the 3PM cell seems much less likely to have been as electrically supercharged as the latter two.

    3. Getting into MOO territory here…

    Assuming for conjecture that the family (at least the adults anyway) were indeed felled in a freak lightning event caused by Cell 1 around 5 to 6PM when they were halfway up the Savage-Lundy trail, it stands to reason they hadn’t started up the switchbacks until an hour or so before, or around 4PM or thereabouts. This brings up an interesting point...

    Had they not tarried to often on the first 2/3 of loop during the morning and had made good time (‘twas mostly downhill, then generally level along the river) they’d have arrived at the base of the Savage-Lundy switchbacks by noon or perhaps even a bit earlier. Surely by 1PM or so. This then leaves a several hour gap during the hottest part of the afternoon before they headed up the Savage-Lundy switchbacks.

    One could speculate that having arrived at the base of the switchbacks around mid-day and having then realized it had become too hot for such an exposed and treacherous climb - they elected to WAIT OUT THE DAY’S HEAT. Most likely in some shade. Perhaps near the river.

    To me, (again MOO), this seems consistent with what I have always felt about them. That they were two very intelligent and resourceful individuals, who’d have likely – and responsibly - realized the situation at hand: “Honey, I think we missed our window… it’s just too hot to take the Miju and Oski up those switchbacks now. Let’s wait it out till later when it cools down a bit”.

    To be sure, as evidenced by the visible satellite GIF loop, a few light clouds began drifting over their location by 1:30PM, with increasing cloud cover blanketing the area by 4PM, and by 5PM the developing cloud mass from Cell 1 should have completely enveloped them. With increasing clouds now totally blotting out the blistering sun and cooling temperatures a bit, a very attractive window to resume the hike up the switchbacks would have then presented itself.

    Wanting to take quick advantage of this window, the potential power of the approaching storm cell and their subsequent exposure to lightning on that barren slope simply may not have been a prescient thought at the time.

    Although the above conjectures are purely MOO and based on reasoned speculation, regardless of whatever befell the family, the satellite evidence unequivocally shows that the potential for electrical phenomena to have indeed occurred late that day cannot be readily dismissed.

    Lastly, the GIFs below are set to loop continuously, and if you’re using Google Chrome as a browser and would like to manually scrub the GIFs back and forth - and even save stills of any frame - there’s a great plugin that lets you do just that. Here it is: “GIF Frames” Plugin for Chrome: Gif Frames

    Just install the plugin, open (or drag) a GIF into your browser window, right click on it, and choose “Show GIF frames”. It’s a pretty cool plugin.

    (GIF Credits: © WeatherOK Inc.; MapData © OpenStreetMap conributors; Rendering©Science Research Group@Heidleburg University; GIFs created and available at www.weather.us and authorized for noncommercial use by TOS in section 2.3 at: Terms and Conditions )
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2021
  15. Curious_in_NC

    Curious_in_NC Well-Known Member

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    I agree with all you say. I still resist letting my phone/GPS tell me how to get somewhere. I like having a sense of direction.

    I had looked into the map issues in part in wondering what liability AllTrails might have. My hunch is not much since most of the trail info and reviews are user supplied and the underlying maps are mostly open source (MOO, I'm not a legal expert). It's not clear if AllTrails use any algorithms or internal reviews to weed out truly dangerous misinformation. But that doesn't seem to be the case here, it's more just a lack of information.
     
  16. Recidivist

    Recidivist Well-Known Member

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    But their daughter and dog were with them. Are you saying a crime was committed against them?
     
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  17. CharadeYouAre

    CharadeYouAre Well-Known Member

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    Pumphouse, do you think more details will ever be released to the public?
     
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  18. Recidivist

    Recidivist Well-Known Member

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    What's toxic algae and could it really have killed an entire California family hiking near Yosemite?

    According to Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Kristie Mitchell, results from several toxicology reports — including a test of the water found in the family’s CamelBak — are still pending, and a timeframe for those becoming public is still not known. After learning that anatoxin cannot be filtered out of water, SFGATE asked Mitchell whether a filter was discovered in the family’s belongings. The answer was no.

    Why toxic algae's a prime suspect in Calif. hiking family's death
     
  19. CocoChanel

    CocoChanel Administrator Staff Member Administrator Moderator

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    MOD NOTE

    Websleuths welcomes new members!
    If you have info to share, here are the rules for posting it:

    1. Info posted as fact MUST include the link to the MSM source of that info.
    2. Info you know to be true because you are close the case or circumstances does not need a link ONLY IF you have been approved as a Verified Insider.
    3. Opinion is welcome IF you state that it is IMO, MOO, etc., and that opinion is based in facts as published in the case.

    Posts that fail to comply with the requirements will be removed. That has happened to several posts this morning, in addition to those that quoted the removed posts. It is possible that some post may be reinstated IF Verified Insider status is approved. Please follow the highlighted link to begin the process.

    THANK YOU for your continuing efforts to post respectfully and responsibly according to the Websleuths Terms of Service we all agreed to when we joined.

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  20. Newsjunkiejen

    Newsjunkiejen On Time Out

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    Wow! You've put so much time and effort into this @Blackkettle Thank you for this fascinating, in depth info.

    Having read everything you said, when I was watching the GIFs, I kept my eye on the time in the bottom right hand corner, and sure enough, it looks like some seriously bad storm conditions were present at the times you stated.

    I also agree that J&E seemed worldly wise and can completely believe that they would consider waiting for that cooler window of opportunity to make it up that last, tough stretch.

    I guess what we need now is LE to give an approximate time of death, to see if that ties in with your theories.

    Personally, I had narrowed it down to heatstroke or lightning for COD, but only yesterday ruled lightning out because I'd read that, statistically, only 10% of those struck by lightning die as a result. I thought the odds of it taking all four of them simply too unbelievable. I'm not sure how those stats differ (if at all) between a direct lightning strike, or a ground lightning strike, but having absorbed all the info you've provided, I think it puts lightning right back on the table again as the potential culprit.
     
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