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The couple who sacrificed their own lives so their 9-year-old son could survive.

The ultimate sacrifice.

“He was well hydrated, compared to the other two.”

Those are the words from Otero County Sheriff Benny House who, during a routine patrol on Tuesday, found a nine-year-old boy lying near the bodies of his dead parents.

The French family were found in a desert in the US state of New Mexico.

Investigators now believe that they ran out of water and that the parents – David Steiner, 42, and his wife, Ornella Steiner, 51 – sacrificed to save the life of their son by giving him the bulk of their water supply.

Ornella and David Steiner.

Their nine-year old son, Enzo, was found dehydrated but otherwise in a good condition by the body of his father.

The National Park Service recommends that visitors to the trail not start a hike when the temperature is at or above 29°C. Tuesday’s temperature reached over 38°C.

Whilst the couple were experienced travellers and their trip to the United States had been planned for over a year, authorities believe the couple were ill equipped for the desert conditions.

“I just think they weren’t prepared for that type of heat. I just think they underestimated the desert,” Sheriff Benny House told CNN.

french couple dies in new mexico desert
Sheriff House speaking with CNN. Image via CNN.
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One gallon of water – or almost four litres – is recommended per person per day. The Steiner’s were hiking with just over a litre of water.

Sheriff House described the situation as “the perfect storm” and said that when park rangers arrived, there was no water left in the bottles.

Enzo Steiner – who does not speak English – told investigators that his mother had fallen and aggravated a previous knee injury early on in the hike.

It is believed she then left her family to head back to the trailhead but soon collapsed.

The body of Ornella Steiner was discovered first and police and emergency responders tried to establish why she was on the trail alone.

It wasn’t until they searched through the images on her camera that they discovered a man and child were also on the trail and extended their search.

The desert where the Steiners were found.

Enzo Steiner was found by the body of his deceased 42-year-old father soon after.

Sheriff House believes that the boy likely survived the ordeal as he was given the bulk of the water supply.

“That [is] may be why he fared so well, he was a lot smaller and probably had twice as much water,” House said, “He was well hydrated compared to the other two.”

Whilst the cause of death won’t be known until an autopsy is concluded, medical examiners believe that the Steiners’ death appears to be heat-related.

The young boy is now in the custody of his grandmother, who arrived in New Mexico on Thursday. They have since returned to France.

Mrs Steiner also leaves behind two older children from a previous marriage.

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