Hiker, rescuer killed at waterfall in Skagit County

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 29, 2014 

SEDRO-WOOLLEY- Authorities have recovered the bodies of two men who died Saturday night at Pilchuck Falls in remote Skagit County.

Dead are a 25-year-old hiker and a 61-year-old search and rescue volunteer who was part of a team trying to save two hikers who fell at the falls, which are in rugged and precipitous terrain on Pilchuck Creek east of Highway 9, several miles south of Sedro Woolley.

Their names were being withheld until relatives could be notified, said Chief Criminal Deputy Don McDermott, who heads investigation and public information responsibilities for the Skagit County Sheriff's Office.

A black mourning band was placed over the Skagit County Search and Rescue team's logo on its Facebook page Sunday and a message of condolence was posted. "Last night Skagit SAR lost one of our own while performing a rescue. Our hearts go out to his family and to all of our volunteers who were impacted by this tragedy. Please keep them all in your thoughts and prayers. Your sacrifice will never be forgotten brother, rest easy," the message said.

Pilchuck Falls is 14 feet high and 60 feet wide and located in a steep ravine, according to the website AaronsWaterfallWorld.com, which tracks conditions at waterfalls in Western Washington. According to the website, the trail involves using a series of ropes to get to the bottom. A May 31 post on a hiking blog at the Washington Trails Association website wta.org said the route is steep and slippery and that one section of the trail "is a giant mudhole."

In press releases issued Sunday, June 29, McDermott said the Skagit County Sheriff's Office, the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office, and Skagit County search and rescue personnel were alerted to an incident at the falls about 9:40 p.m. Saturday, June 28.

"The initial information received is that a group of four people were together on a logging road near the falls and two of them tried to work their way down towards the falls. One of the subjects, a 25-year-old male, fell approximately 100 feet. His partner tried to reach him and he got into trouble and he was eventually rescued by search and rescue volunteers," McDermott said.

McDermott said the surviving hiker also started to fall and had to cling to a tree until he was rescued by search and rescue personnel.

He said that members of the Skagit County rescue team were training nearby and responded to the call for help. As rescuers tried to reach the two men, the 61-year-old volunteer fell to his death.

After both deaths were confirmed overnight Saturday, rescue teams decided to suspend body recovery operations until dawn Sunday, McDermott said.

Contact Robert Mittendorf at 360-756-2805 or at robert.mittendorf@bellinghamherald.com.

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