Day hike ends in tragedy for father and two sons

David Decareaux and his two sons. Photo from: inquisitr.


I don’t normally make a practice of posting entire stories written by other authors or news services, but this one, which ran in a number of publications today, deserves to be looked at in entirety. What caught my attention is the tragic outcome of a simple outing in the Mark Twain National Forest that resulted in the death of a father and his two young sons. 

That outcome was avoidable. Read it and let me know what you think. I look at this photo and see everyone’s family. What a sad conclusion. Don’t let it happen to you. Give some thought to the gear you might need the next time you head out on a day hike: a weather report, map and compass, rain gear, extra layer, fire-starter,  food and water.

Enjoy the outdoors, but be careful out there. 


ST. LOUIS (AP) — On a weekend trip that was a surprise anniversary gift for his wife, an outdoors-loving Air Force veteran ventured out with two of his sons for a hike on a remote trail. Clad only in light jackets and sweaters, the three apparently didn’t know how rapidly the weather would turn ugly, and that proved deadly.

Searchers found the soaked bodies of 36-year-old David Decareaux and the two boys — ages 8 and 10 — on the Ozark Trail on Sunday, a day after Decareaux declined a passerby’s offer of a ride back to the lodge where they had been staying, Reynolds County Sheriff Tom Volner said. The cold had killed them, he said.

Only the family’s 4-month-old yellow Labrador retriever survived the hike. He was found near Decareaux, who died at the scene, and the two boys, who were declared dead at a hospital after hours of efforts to revive them failed.

The tragedy crushed Decareaux’s father-in-law, Keith Hartrum, who described the family as tightly knit, “always on the go and adventurous.”

“Dave was a great guy, a good father, son-in-law and husband,” Hartrum told The Associated Press. “Those two boys were just precious — smart, very nice kids.”

It was nearly 60 degrees Saturday morning when Decareaux and his sons set out on the popular trail that runs through a sparsely populated area of southeast Missouri. Decareaux was wearing only a light jacket, while one of his sons was clad in a fleece pullover, and the other a sweater, Volner said.

They were ill-equipped as the temperature sank into the 40s, and a storm that would drop 2 inches of rain set in, making the trail all but impassable.

Volner said there are no caves or other places of refuge along the trail. Although Decareaux had a cellphone and flashlight with him, both devices lost power at some point, his wife, Sarah, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday.

A passer-by spotted the hikers more than three hours into their journey and asked if they needed a ride back to the Brushy Creek Lodge near Black, where Decareaux’s wife and their three other children — ages 12, 4 and 2 — were staying. But Decareaux declined, telling the man they could make it back, the sheriff said.

“They just missed their turn back to the lodge,” the sheriff said. “By that time, their light played out. You don’t have any ambient light down here because there are no cities or towns. When it’s dark you can’t see the back of your hand.”

Officials at the lodge called the sheriff’s department about 7 p.m. Saturday, concerned that the hikers had not returned. A search involving more than 50 volunteers on foot, horseback and in vehicles lasted until about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, when flash-flooding in creeks forced searchers to back off until daylight.

By then, it was freezing, and the temperature had dipped to the upper 20s by sunrise.

It wasn’t long after that that the hikers’ drenched bodies were found, their dog beside them. No autopsies were planned, and the deaths were attributed to hypothermia, Volner said.

Hartrum described Decareaux, who lived in Millstadt, Ill., as a doting father and spiritual man who had retired from the Air Force in recent years and was working with the Defense Department in a job he couldn’t discuss, even privately. Karen Petitt, a spokeswoman at southwestern Illinois’ Scott Air Force Base, said Decareaux worked there for the Pentagon’s Defense Information Systems Agency.

Decareaux and his wife, Sarah, were married about 14 years ago after a chance meeting that was “love at first sight,” said Hartrum, who lives near Waterloo, Ill. They made the most of his overseas assignments, using them to explore Europe over much of the past decade with his family, he said.

“They had a strong, good, healthy marriage,” he said, noting the Decareaux was an experienced hiker “who just got caught up (last weekend) in a freak situation” that proved fatal.

Sarah Decareaux said prayer and her spiritual faith were helping her press on.

“We are a Christian family,” she told the Post-Dispatch as she headed to a funeral home to make arrangements. “I know where they are now.”

About Howard Meyerson

After more than 30 years in the outdoor writing business, you would think I'd know better.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Day hike ends in tragedy for father and two sons

  1. Steve Schaibley says:

    Very Sad! I worked in Yellowstone and the saying was always” Sunny now, Snow in 5 minutes!!” Always dress in layers!! I am planning a long distance hike of the NCt this summer, starting in ND and seeing how far I get!. Hopefully to Duluth at least, which is where my Father was raised.


    • That’s not unlike Michigan where the saying is if you don’t like the weather – wait five minutes. Good luck on the NCT. I chip away at pieces of it here in Michigan. What state are you from?


      • Steve Schaibley says:

        I am from Bismarck, ND. So I am familiar with the terrain.Lived there my whole life and had no idea the trail was there until the Nimblewill Nomad did it in 09! He is my inspiration I am currently working in Park City, UT until April, then hopefully start the NCT by May 1st., depending on how much snow ND gets this winter? Who knows, maybe I will even make it to Michigan? Where are you from in Michigan? I heard the trail is very well maintained in Michigan?


      • I live in Grand Rapids, on the west side of the state, 30 or so miles from Lake Michigan. The NCTA national headquarters is located 17 miles or so east of here in Lowell, MI. The NCT chapters I know of here have done an excellent job of maintaining, marking building and improving bridges along the trail. I’ve worked with several of the groups over the years, writing stories about their efforts. If you get this far, look me up. Give me a shout.


  2. Elaine Davenport says:

    So heartbreaking. My thoughts and prayers are with the family.


  3. Robert Grisevich says:

    Plastic lawn & leaf bags don’t take up much room in a jacket pocket or day pack.


  4. Betsy says:

    As you said Howard, the heartbreaking tragedy could have been avoided with a little forethought and planning.


  5. Brian Issing says:

    As the Scoutmaster of Troop 48, in Germantown, Tenn., I read the wire article yesterday and was struck with how this could be a learning for my Boy Scouts. I even printed it to use as a Scoutmaster Minute at my next Troop meeting as we had hiked the OMT recently. As an active, outdoor Troop we just spent a very wet weekend in West Tennessee and many a Scout learned how unprepared he was. But what really hit home was seeing the photo of Mr. Decareaux and learning that he was a Boy Scout leader and that his sons were Cub Scouts.

    How sad.

    Thank you for posting this story.


  6. Fritz Seegers says:

    My partner and I were hiking up a mountain in Glacier National Park one very hot summer in August at 90 degrees many years ago in August. Two hours into it the temps dropped. Fortunately we brought 2 light jackets that we put on. The sun was still shining but incredibly it started to sleat. We were incredious where were the clouds and the percepitation coming from? We retreated back down. Very cold but safe. Only later when we were miles from the peak could we see the clouds roll into the peak from the west that we were climbing and the wind blowing the cold rain, sleat and snow over the summit into the east where we were hiking.


  7. Fritz: Sounds like you got off the mountain just in time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s