Southern California woman killed after ice collapses in Washington cave

A Southern California woman was killed Monday when unstable blocks of ice collapsed and fell on her as she hiked in a cave in Washington state.

Anna L. Santana, 34, lived in Moreno Valley and was excited about the trip to Mill Creek, Wash. In a Facebook post, the mother of four talked about the “much needed vacation.”

On Monday, Santana, her fiance, her children and other family members headed to the Big Four Ice Caves in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Officials had been warning hikers that warmer temperatures were causing ice and snow to collapse inside the cave.

“The cave is in a condition that we would normally not see until at least September — large, inviting and collapsing,” U.S. Forest Service Ranger Matthew Riggen said in a statement in May.

But visitors continued to explore the caves, with numbers increasing in the summer.

Santana’s group and others were hiking inside the caves when snow and ice collapsed on them.

Santana died and the five others were injured.

Her body remained trapped in snow and ice in the back of the caves for a day before it could be removed because of the “extremely dangerous conditions,” sheriff’s officials said. The others were rescued and taken to hospitals.

According to KING-TV in Washington, Santana’s fiance, brother and child were among those injured. Her fiance remained hospitalized with a broken leg and her brother was in intensive care.

Crews had to use small explosives to dislodge debris inside the cave before they could recover Santana’s body Tuesday. Coroner’s officials say Santana died of blunt force injuries to her head and torso.

Again on Tuesday, sheriff’s officials issued a warning about the caves, advising people to stay away.

“Areas of the cave are still collapsing and will continue to do so until the cave no longer exists. No one should go in or near the cave," Search and Rescue Deputy Peter Teske said in a statement. "The area is not safe."

Meanwhile, Santana’s family is grieving her death. They have set up an online fundraising account and are asking for donations to help pay for her burial. Some of the money will also be set aside for her children, the family said.

Family member Maria Mercado said she watched Santana “walk away and out of my life.”

“I told her not to leave me,” she wrote on Facebook. “But she wanted to go to a prettier side to be with her family. I didn't think she was going to stay. I'm being selfish but she shouldn't of went.”

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA.

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