After the ice-cave collapse, rescue efforts were delayed for 45 minutes because of a lack of cellphone reception in the Snohomish County area.
Chloe Jakubowski was one of dozens of people who fled scorching temperatures Monday afternoon for the cool shadows of the Big Four Ice Caves, a popular recreation site in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Jakubowski, 18, who recently moved to Bothell from Napa, Calif., was with friends just inside the cave when the silence was broken by a loud crack. Ice and debris rained down, scattering the visitors. Jakubowski covered her head with her arms and crouched behind a giant rock of ice. When she stood up, she found mayhem.
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A woman next to her lay unconscious. Nearby, other hikers lay with cuts and broken bones.
“As soon as it stopped I looked up and looked around me and it was extremely gruesome, honestly,” said Jakubowski, who suffered scratches and other minor injuries.
“Everybody there, we grabbed everybody out and helped as best we could,” she said.
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said one person was killed when tons of ice and rock collapsed near the mouth of the popular caves, and five others were injured, two seriously. Rescue efforts were delayed for nearly 45 minutes because of a lack of cellphone reception in the area, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton.
Ireton said the body of the deceased, who was not identified, remained at the scene Tuesday morning. Five people — three adults and two juveniles — were taken to area hospitals.
“There was a large pile of ice and rock that came down,” Ireton said. “In many ways, it was similar to an avalanche.”
Ireton said the recent heat wave “has weakened the caves themselves. They are essentially a frozen-over avalanche chute sitting over a waterfall sitting below a giant rock chute. It’s incredibly dangerous.”
The three injured adults — two men and a woman — were flown by helicopter by Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, said hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg.
A 25-year-old man was upgraded Tuesday morning from critical to serious condition and is in intensive care, Gregg said.
Another man, 35, was upgraded from serious to satisfactory condition and is no longer in intensive care. A 35-year-old woman was treated and released Monday night from Harborview, Gregg said.
In addition, two children were taken to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett with minor injuries and have been released, according to Colleen Wadden, a spokeswoman for Providence. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said the children were both girls.
County officials warned visitors in May to exercise extreme caution near the ice caves, which are a popular hiking destination, because warm weather was causing sections of the caves to collapse. The sheriff’s office said in May that visitors should stay on the trail and not stand on top of caves.
Asked in a briefing why access to the caves hasn’t been forbidden, Ireton said, “That’s a United States Forest Service decision. That’s not a Sheriff’s Office decision.”
Visitors to the cave Sunday captured video of a large shelf of ice breaking free from a lip hanging over the entrance to the caves, scattering a small group of hikers who had wandered close. The video contains obscenities:
Ireton said more than 100 rescuers responded to the recreation area after a caller reported the collapse. The cave-in occurred about 5:38 p.m., but it took the caller 45 minutes to drive out to make the call.
Jakubowski said she and her friends drove 15 miles to use a payphone at a campsite after the collapse. She said it was at least a half-hour after the incident.
The temperature in Granite Falls was around 80 degrees at 5 p.m. Monday, according to the National Weather Service.
Ireton said the body of the deceased hiker was not recovered Monday “because conditions of the ice are so dangerous at this point, teams from Everett Mountain Rescue and other search-and-rescue volunteers are looking at conditions of the ice to see how safe it is before they go in.”
The death Monday is the first at the ice caves since the highly publicized death of 11-year-old Grace Tam, who was killed by a boulder of ice that came off the caves in 2010 while her father was taking photographs.
Tam’s family eventually sued the U.S. Forest Service, saying that the Big Four Ice Caves failed to adequately warn visitors about the potential danger of ice avalanches. The lawsuit was dismissed, but now a sign at the trail viewpoint is installed in memory of Grace to warn visitors.
In late 1998, Catherine Stockton Shields, 27, was killed by falling ice when one of the caves partially collapsed.
Recent trail reports for the Big Four Ice Caves posted on the Washington Trails Association website describe the area as “quite an amazing site to see,” even though water was visibly running off the caves.
“But lots of people were tempting fate and wandering into the ice cave,” a hiker wrote in a Friday report.
A user of the website Yelp wrote on Sunday that water was “coming down in sheets from the mouth of the cave” during his hike.
Recovering efforts will be continuing for a while, Ireton said.
“The area is going to be closed indefinitely.”
An earlier version of this story said 11-year-old Grace Tam was killed at the ice caves in 2011.
The Snohomish Sheriff’s department originally said one girl had been taken to Providence with minor injuries.