Tree kills woman in rare accident at Bandelier National Monument

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LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (KRQE) – It was a freak accident at Bandelier National Park, rangers explained how a tree fell and killed a hiker near a main parking lot.

For visitors to New Mexico, Bandelier National Monument is a popular stop.

“This has been so far the highlight of the trip,” said Marybeth Rodgers, a hiker from Missouri.

Park rangers said Bandelier is a safe place to enjoy the outdoors, and the accidents they typically see are minor.

“Simple twisted ankles, trips and falls,” said Jeremy Sweat, acting superintendent for the Bandelier National Monument.

But a freak accident Tuesday has park officials scratching their heads.

“A tree fell and struck an adult female and she died. We don’t have a lot of information other than that to share right now because the investigation is still ongoing and the medical examiner still hasn’t finished their investigation,” said Sweat.

It happened near the Amphitheater parking lot. The park does have a tree hazard program and the park said they constantly monitor sick or weakened trees in the areas visitors use most.

“As trees age, they sometimes become weak, sometimes they suffer from insect infestations that further weaken the trees,” said Sweat.

Standing dead trees are also a problem after the 2011 Las Conchas fire burned more than 60 percent of the forest.

“It’s likely that for years to come there still will be standing dead trees in those burned areas of the back-country,” said Sweat.

But the tree that fell in the incident was a live tree in a front area of the park.

“There was no way we could have anticipated that this tree would have come down yesterday,” said Sweat.

A mystery that has rangers saddened by this tragic accident.

“It is our highest priority to keep our visitors and our employees safe,” said Sweat.

Park officials said they check for trees that pose a danger in areas with heavy visitor traffic, which is about five percent of the park.

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