By Eric Stevick Herald Writer
VERLOT — An 11-year-old girl died and her mother was injured this afternoon after a large chunk of ice fell on top of them at the Big Four ice caves in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, officials said.
The mother and daughter were on a family outing when the accident occurred after 2 p.m. about 25 miles east of Granite Falls.
“They were not on or in the ice cave,” said Snohomish County Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Brand. “They were adjacent to the ice caves.”
Names and hometowns of the victims were not released Saturday.
Brand said his department received a 911 call around 2:30 p.m.
Aid units were dispatched from the Robe Valley, Granite Falls, Getchell and Lake Stevens fire departments. CPR was attempted on the girl, who suffered severe injuries to her body, officials said.
The sheriff’s office also dispatched a Snohomish County Search and Rescue helicopter.
The woman received a head injury but did not require transportation to the hospital, Brand said.
“A large piece of ice broke off and struck both of them,” Brand said. “To me, this would be the definition of a tragic accident.”
Law enforcement and safety experts have long warned people to stay out of the ice caves and not to climb on them.
This afternoon’s accident underscored the danger of even being close to the cave openings, officials said.
“The weather has been getting warmer, and the conditions have been changing,” said Lt. Jeff Torgerson of the Granite Falls Fire District. “It’s dangerous.”
Thousands of people visit the ice caves each summer.
The ice forms when winter and spring avalanches slam down the walls of the mountainside and pile tremendous amounts of snow at the base of Big Four. The low-elevation ice caves are created by stream channels under the melting icy snowfield.
In the summer waterfalls also crash down those same mountain walls, helping to hollow out the caves.
This is the first full summer since 2006 that tourists from around the world have been able to visit the caves.
The floods of November 2006 carved out a wider riverbed and washed away the trail bridge across the South Fork Stillaguamish River.
A new $425,000 bridge opened July 1, 2009, allowing hikers access to one of the most popular sights in Snohomish County and arguably the best-used trail in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Brand said the message is to enjoy the beauty of the ice caves from a distance.
“We just ask that people don’t be in or on or around the ice caves just for their own safety,” he said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, email@example.com