San Jose State student dies during apparent drowning

Image 1 of 3

SAN JOSE (KTVU) -- Loved ones said Billy Nguyen was a thrill seeker with a passion for the outdoors. It was that love for the outdoors that led him to participate in a weekend school trip to Sequoia National Park.

Family members and school officials said Monday that Nguyen, 19, and a student at San Jose State University, died in an apparent drowning during a school backpacking trip at a lake.

Ronald Nguyen is coming to terms with losing his younger and only brother. The two of them were just three years apart in age and spent a lot of time together.

"I didn't want to believe it at first," Ronald Nguyen, 22. "He's always been headstrong, fearless, very capable, and responsible."

Billy was on a a trip with the school's Outdoor Adventures Recreation Program at the Sequoia National Park when rangers received a distress call from Eagle Lake of a possible drowning.

After climbing 2,500 feet, a 3 1/2-mile hike and deploying a helicopter, park snorkelers found Nguyen's body the next day. Park rangers are now awaiting autopsy results from the coroner's office.

"We did a temperature check on the lake yesterday, which was a day after the incident and it was 52 degrees at 10 feet under water and that's really cold," said Zachary Behrens, acting public information officer for the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Ngueyn was one of five staff leaders with a group of 15 other San Jose State students on the trip when the accident occurred. The school said grief counselors will be available for students who need them. Ronald Nguyen said his family didn't know of any medical conditions that his brother suffered from. 

The second year Kinesiology major was known to be ambitious and tiny growing up. He created motivational YouTube videos to inspire people to be active. Relatives said he was a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness.

"He loved the feeling of being able to achieve a great deal so he wanted to share that with others," said Ronald Nguyen.

"It came as a shock to all of us that this would happen," said Ronald Nguyen. "He's been on plenty of backpacking trips before and nothing has gone wrong before."

Ronald Nguyen and his family are focused on remembering Billy, calling him a true Spartan who loved San Jose State. They are comforted knowing he lived his short life making them proud.

"I intend to live my life to the fullest to honor my brother," said Ngueyn. "It's what he would want."

Funeral services for the Nguyen were pending.

KTVU reporter Azenith Smith contributed to this story.