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Hiker dies on trek to 'Wave' in Ariz-Utah desert

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PAUL FOY | July 23, 2013 06:18 PM EST | AP

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SALT LAKE CITY — The brutal summer heat proved too much for another hiker visiting The Wave, a flowing sandstone rock formation near the Utah-Arizona border that claimed the lives of a California couple earlier this month.

The deaths have prompted federal officials to consider seeking an outside investigation of the dangers posed to hikers who make the trek.

Elisabeth Ann Bervel, 27, of Mesa, Ariz., died on Monday of cardiac arrest when a medical helicopter arrived too late to save her, authorities said.

Bervel was celebrating her fifth wedding anniversary with her husband Anthony when they lost their way on a 3-mile, unmarked route back to a trailhead, forcing them to spend extra hours under blazing sun in 90-degree temperatures and humidity.

Officials said her legs gave out while hiking in soft sand, and her husband kept going to find a cellphone signal to call for help. He appeared to be in no danger from the heat or exertion, authorities said.

"This event once again demonstrates the inherent risks associated with hiking in southern Utah's desert country," the Kane County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. "Even though the Bervels had tried to make sure they were prepared for this hike, the elements proved to be stronger."

The Wave is a richly colored geological upheaval, its fiery swirls emblazoned on postcards, posters, maps and computer screensavers. It is said to be one of the most photographed spots in North America.

The latest death led to further questions about the lottery system that makes it hard to win one of only 20 permits issued a day for the hike that starts in Utah before reaching The Wave in Arizona. More than 48,000 people applied last year for 7,300 available hiking permits, officials said.

Half of the 20 daily permits are doled out on a walk-in basis at a visitor's center in Kanab, with up to 100 people showing up for each one. For many, it's a lifetime opportunity that can encourage risk-taking during the hottest time of the year.

Anthony and Elisabeth Ann Bervel won their permits in an online drawing seven months ago. Their two sons, 4 and 5, were staying with relatives.

On July 3, Ulrich and Patricia Wahli of Campbell, Calif., were found dead in 106-degree heat along the barely discernible trail to The Wave.

Officials at the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument had said they planned to review their policies and procedures for visitors after the Wahlis died. Now, they plan to speed up the review or possibly seek an outside investigation of the dangers of The Wave and the lottery system.

"We're considering everything at this point," including a marked trail, Monument Manager Kevin Wright said.

Kane County officials said the Bervels lost their way a few times on the trek back to a remote trailhead during the hottest part of the day, without any shade for relief.

It was the fourth hiking-related death in Kane County this summer – three near The Wave, and another off Hole-in-the-Rock Road south of Escalante, Utah, authorities said.