NPS shares new details about foot found in Yellowstone spring – but one mystery is unsolved

Abyss Pool at Yellowstone National Park
(Image credit: Getty)

The National Park Service has revealed new details about the foot that was discovered floating in a hot spring at Yellowstone National Park last year, though the mystery of how it wound up in the water remains unanswered.

A park employee spotted the foot (inside a shoe) in the Abyss Pool back in August. Officials issued a statement saying that no foul play was suspected, and in November, the remains were identified as belonging to a 70-year-old man named Il Hun Ro, from Los Angeles.

Now, the National Park Service has published a detailed report of the whole investigation in response to a freedom of information request. Some specifics have been redacted for privacy, but the document gives a detailed account of exactly what happened after the foot was first spotted, and how its owner was identified.

Discovery and investigation

On August 16, a US Park Ranger was called to the Abyss Pool, where a visitor had spotted a shoe a few feet from the pool's rim. The Ranger reported seeing a black shoe containing what looked like bone, and "a film and dark clumps floating on top of the pool". The Ranger immediately closed off the surrounding boardwalk and made sure visitors were escorted safely away.

Another Ranger noted that they had recovered the soles of two shoes from the same pool the previous week, and the one that was recovered was indeed missing its sole. They had also noticed a film on top of the water, but surmised it must be glue from the shoes.

Once the shoe had been recovered, Rangers began investigating unclaimed vehicles in the parking lot. By the next day, only one remained unaccounted for. Meanwhile, the fire department used drones to conduct an aerial search of the area, and geologists collected samples of "fatty" material that had risen to the surface of the water.

Rangers carried out a detailed inventory of the abandoned vehicle, and recovered items including a laptop, various notebooks, photos, and a wallet containing ID belonging to Il Hun Ro. They also found receipts indicating that he had checked out of his lodge on 31 July, with no suggestion that he had booked other accommodation. 

They contacted Ro's family, who agreed to submit a DNA sample. Experts at Teton County Coroner's Office were then able to match the sample to the foot recovered from the water.

It's a sad story, and we may never know exactly what happened to Ro, but it's also reassuring to read about the care the Rangers and specialists took to protect members of the public, and identify him as swiftly as possible to give his family closure.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.