Deadly Washington ice cave collapse after warm temps

Associated Press

Verlot, Wash. — Ice caves popular with hikers partially collapsed in Washington state, killing one person and injuring five others, after authorities posted warnings about the danger from warm weather.

Monday’s collapse came a day after a hiker filmed a section of the caves tumbling down. Several tourists were inside when the ice fell Sunday, but there were no reported injuries. The ice caves, which are openings at the base of permanent snowfields created by melting ice, have been closed until further notice.

The person who died Monday remained buried under the debris at the Big Four Ice Caves, a hiking destination about 70 miles northeast of Seattle, Snohomish County sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said late Monday. The recovery effort was suspended at nightfall.

Three of the injured were airlifted to a Seattle trauma center, and their conditions have since improved. A 25-year-old man in intensive care has been upgraded from critical to serious condition, Harborview Medical Center spokeswoman Susan Gregg said Tuesday.

A 35-year-old man is no longer in intensive care, and his condition is satisfactory, while a 35-year-old woman was treated and released Monday night, Gregg said.

Two minors also were treated and released from Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, hospital spokeswoman Diane Torrance said Tuesday. All the victims of the collapse were believed accounted for, Ireton said.

The U.S. Forest Service warned hikers in May that the ice caves were in their “most dangerous state” due to unseasonably warm weather. Temperatures in the area Monday reportedly were in the 80s.

Multiple warning signs have been put up in the past year to indicate the danger, Tracy O’Toole, a spokeswoman for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, told the Daily Herald of Everett.

The caves are formed by avalanches that cascade down from nearby Big Four Mountain during the winter and spring. Most years, one or more caves form as the ice melts.

Chloe Jakubowski, 18, told The Seattle Times that she and a handful of others were in the cave when she heard a loud crack, then ice and debris cascaded down. She said she covered her head with her arms and crouched behind a giant rock of ice.

When she stood up, a woman next to her lay unconscious. Others nearby suffered cuts and broken bones.

“It was extremely gruesome, honestly,” said Jakubowski, who had scratches and other minor injuries. “Everybody there, we grabbed everybody out and helped as best we could.”

She said she saw the warning signs outside but went in anyway, because she didn’t see anything that seemed to point toward a collapse and others were already in the cave.

Jakubowski told the newspaper that she and three friends drove about 15 miles to a pay phone to alert emergency crews. There was no cellphone service at the remote cave site.

The first emergency call came in at 5:38 p.m., and the collapse probably happened about 45 minutes earlier, Ireton said.

There have been deaths at the caves before. In July 2010, an 11-year-old girl was killed outside the caves by a bouncing chunk of ice.