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Ice cave collapse kills 1, injures 5

VERLOT, Wash. — "Very unstable" conditions at the Big Four Ice Caves in Washington's Cascade Range are hampering efforts to recover the body of a woman killed Monday when tons of ice and rock collapsed on a group of hikers, the U.S. Forest Service said Tuesday morning.

The body of the 34-year-old woman was not recovered Monday because the conditions were deemed too dangerous, and crews suspended rescue operations due to darkness, Snohomish County sheriff's spokeswoman Shari Ireton said at a news conference at the Verlot Ranger Station.

The cave was monitored overnight and rocks and ice continued to fall, Ireton said.

The woman's name has not been released. Five others were injured, two seriously, when a portion of the cave's roof collapsed late Monday afternoon.

The area where the collapse occurred was deep inside the cave near a waterfall, according to authorities. Rangers estimate the cave is about 100 to 150 feet deep.

The road to the ice caves trailhead has been closed to vehicle and foot traffic while recovery efforts continue.

"The caves have been very unstable this season with the very warm weather," said Phyllis Reed, acting district ranger for the Forest Service.

They've been warning people about unsafe conditions, including crevasses, she said.

"This is typically what we'd be seeing in August," Reed said. "People are asked not to go into the caves because of danger."

Because of the dynamic geography of the area, the Forest Service can't really block access to the cave, Reed said.

There are safety signs all along the trail going toward the cave, Reed said.

Ireton said it's unclear how they can proceed with a recovery operation.

"Anybody who steps into it (the cave) is at risk. I think right now they're looking at every possible option," she said.

Ireton said she doesn't know if the people injured and the person killed knew each other. She said search-and-rescue crews have been working with the victims' families.

We're expecting to see a lot of warm temperatures that causes the instability. At this point incident command is focused on working toward recovery."

At Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, a 25-year-old injured man was upgraded Tuesday morning from critical to serious condition and is in intensive care, said spokeswoman Susan Gregg.

Also, a 35-year-old man 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, Gregg said.

In addition, two children who were taken to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett with minor injuries have been released, according to Colleen Wadden, a spokeswoman for Providence. The sheriff's office said the children were both girls.

The Big Four Ice Caves, named after Big Four Mountain, have long drawn hikers.

"It's been advertised since the '20s and it's the scenery — the beautiful scenery" — that attracts people, Hall said.

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 Forest Service, saying that signage at 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.

Locator map of Big Four Ice Cave where a collapse killed one, leaving at least 5 injured