YOSEMITE VALLEY, Calif. — Three people who climbed over a guardrail in Yosemite National Park, fell into the raging Merced River and plunged over Vernal Fall remain missing and are presumed dead, the park service said Wednesday.
The victims, all California residents, were identified as Hormiz David, 22, of Modesto; Ramina Badal, 21, of Manteca; and Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock.
The trio was visiting the park on a day trip with a group of family and friends when the tragedy occurred around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the park service said in a statement.
"The group was witnessed entering the water above Vernal Fall, approximately 25 feet from the precipice," it said. "Witnesses reported to park officials that several people urged the group member to step back from the river, since it was flowing swiftly and extremely cold. The area is signed as a dangerous area, and the group had crossed a metal guardrail placed there to keep visitors away from the dangerous fast moving water.
"The park is still seeing the effects of a huge winter snowpack and a cool spring and summer. The Merced River, which feeds the 317 foot Vernal Fall, is still running at spring conditions with significant water levels resulting in a swift, dangerous current."
Search teams were continuing to scour the river below Vernal Fall, park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said.
A half-mile portion of the Mist Trail leading to the fall, which had been closed, was reopened Wednesday morning.
The Fresno Bee, citing its sister publication the Modesto Bee, reported Wednesday that the victims were part of a church group from Ceres.
It quoted Father Genard Lazar of the Church of the East, St. George Parish, as saying that he and other members of the church youth group were eating lunch and taking photos when the accident occurred, but that he did not see them fall in.
"All I heard was screaming and I turned around and looked up and (David and Badal) were being taken by the water over the waterfall," he said. "... We were all crying and praying and someone called 911."
The paper quoted another priest, Father Nenos Michael, as saying that Badal was a nursing student at the University of San Francisco, and Yacoub was a chemistry student at Cal State University, Stanislaus.
On Tuesday, NBC Fresno affiliate KSEE quoted witnesses as saying they saw a man and woman climb over the guardrail for a better view of the waterfall. After they slipped into the water, another man jumped over the guardrail to help and also fell over the edge of the falls, KSEE said.
"I saw the man's eyes when he went over the falls. That was devastating," witness Jacob Bibee told local Fresno station CBS47 TV.
Another witness, Dean Sabo, said two of the victims clung together as they neared the abyss.
"I saw two that were holding each other and one that was floating alone through the water. And the reason that I looked was because this woman was screaming, running along the edge of the water," he said.
They were then swept over the falls.
Vernal Fall is 1.5 miles from the Happy Isle Nature Center near Curry Village in Yosemite Valley.
This is not the first time someone has fallen in the area. Ten people have died in and around the waterfall over the past decade.
In July 2005, a 24-year-old man fell down Vernal Fall to his death after losing his balance.
The snow-melt swollen rivers and lakes have claimed six lives in Yosemite National Park this year, including Tuesday's incident, the park service said. Two hikers drowned in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on June 29, 2011, and a hiker slipped and fell into the Merced River on the Mist Trail on May 13, 2011.
Reuters contributed to this report.