PHOENIX - A 13-year-old girl who fell into a brush-covered mine shaft while riding an all-terrain vehicle was found dead at the bottom yesterday, and her 10-year-old sister was rescued with serious injuries, authorities said.
The girls, Rikki Howard and her younger sister Casie Hicks, were taking a holiday weekend ride together on the vehicle about 7 p.m. Saturday when their father, who was riding ahead of them on a dirt bike, noticed that they were missing.
"They were driving along and they went into the mine. It was a total accident," said Sandy Edwards, a spokeswoman for the Mohave County Sheriff's Department.
The mine, believed to be inactive, is in Chloride, about 17 miles north of Kingman. It was next to a dirt road, concealed by brush and had no signs or barriers.
Sheriff's personnel searched throughout the night, but they weren't able to follow the vehicle's tracks into the 125-foot mine shaft until 6:20 a.m. yesterday. The team walked by the site overnight because the hole was covered, Edwards said.
When the entrance was discovered, the father called out and one of the girls answered, officials said. Crews later rappelled into the mine and found the girls and the vehicle at the bottom.
Hicks was taken to University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Edwards said. She was in critical condition yesterday, a hospital spokesman said.
The family declined, through the hospital, to comment.
Seth Johnson, a neighbor of the girls and their family's landlord, said the two were half sisters. "It's an awful shock," Johnson said. "Their parents are very distraught."
Cathy Kelso, a bus driver, said she has been driving the two girls to school for a year and a half. "They're little sweetheart girls," she said. "I just keep hoping it's not true, but it's horrible."
Laurie Swartzbaugh, deputy director of the Arizona state mine inspector's office, said that the mine had not been used for some time, and that the office was investigating. She said abandoned mines are common in the state, and that since Jan. 1, the office has secured 108 of them.
"There's a significant amount of abandoned mines out there that are hazardous to the public's health," she said. "Most of those mines are from old prospectors who would go in and they would mine and they'd just pick up leave."
It was not immediately clear who owned the mine. Swartzbaugh said many abandoned mines date to the early 1900s and that sometimes it's not possible to track down who owns them.
Chloride was one of the major silver mining hubs of Arizona, and the town is considered the oldest continuously inhabited mining community in the state. While fewer than 300 residents remain, mining-related events and exhibits make the virtual ghost town a prominent tourist attraction.
Its name derives from the silver chloride deposits found on the various mineral ores once mined in the area, including gold, silver, lead, and zinc. The mines were closed in the 1940s because of a drop in the price of silver and other minerals.
In Utah last week, officials suspended the search for six coal miners lost in an Aug. 6 mine collapse. The bodies of the men may be permanently entombed in the mountain.
Rescue efforts at the Crandall Canyon Mine were suspended after officials determined that conditions were too dangerous to continue searching. Three rescuers working underground were killed in a second collapse Aug. 16, bringing an abrupt halt to tunnel-clearing efforts to reach the miners.
There are no plans for a memorial at the Utah mine yet. Colin King, a lawyer and spokesman for all six families, said funeral plans and memorial services wouldn't be discussed for at least a week.