(Reuters) - Rescue workers were preparing on Tuesday to recover the body of a woman killed in the partial collapse of an ice cave in Washington state that also injured five others, but the cavern was too dangerous to enter, an official said.
The Snohomish County Sheriff's Office said two men and a woman were airlifted on Monday from the Big Four Ice Caves near Granite Falls, some 40 miles north of Seattle, to nearby hospitals with serious injuries.
Two girls with less serious injuries were driven to a local hospital. Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Shari Ireton said they believed everyone had been accounted for.
Officials had earlier warned that the caves, which host a popular hiking trail and are part of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, were too treacherous to explore due to unseasonably warm weather.
"They are essentially a frozen-over avalanche chute sitting over a waterfall sitting below a giant rock chute. It's incredibly dangerous," Ireton said.
She said rescue workers could not enter the cave safely and crews were planning how to recover the victim's body, which was at the back of the cave.
Ireton said because of poor cell phone reception in the area, the first call came in about 45 minutes after the collapse. The area will be closed to the public indefinitely, she said.
Chloe Jakubowski, 18, told the Seattle Times newspaper that she and her friends were inside the caves when they heard a loud crack before the ice started to fall.
"As soon as it stopped I looked up and looked around me and it was extremely gruesome, honestly," Jakubowski, who had only minor injuries, told the newspaper. "Everybody there, we grabbed everybody out and helped as best we could."
In May, the U.S. Forest Service warned hikers against entering the Big Four Ice Caves after several sections collapsed in unusually warm spring temperatures.
"The cave is in a condition that we would normally not see until at least September - large, inviting and collapsing," Lead Field Ranger Matthew Riggen said.
Falling ice has long been a danger to hikers in the region during warmer months, officials said. In 2010, an 11-year-old girl was killed near the caves when she was struck by a chunk of ice, forest officials said.
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco and Victoria Cavaliere in Los Angeles; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)