Mothers Kept Hope During Ice Cave Rescue

Two teens rescused from ice cave collapse
CBS
Just seconds before plunging into the depths of an ice cave, two teenage boys were posing for pictures showing off their mountain adventure.

The successful rescue effort that ensued on that cold mountain near Washington's Snoqualmie Pass has been deemed nothing short of a miracle.

"All I could do was pray," Chrissy Gelmini, mother of 14-year-old Alessandro Gelmini, told CBS' The Early Show Monday. "During that time you're thinking they might be gone but you have to have hope," she said.

Joni Corbett, mother of 17-year-old Alec Corbett, described the initial scene.

"I just remember my back was to the cave and I heard this really loud noise and I turned around really quick and I just saw the cave collapsing in on the boys," she told The Early Show.

Alessandro Gelmini is having surgery on a broken ankle at a Seattle hospital.

Both Gelmini and Alec Corbett also have had surgery for broken bones in their backs, and the 17-year-old was able to stand Sunday for the first time.

The mothers and firefighters from Eastside Fire and Rescue who cut through ice with a chain saw described the elation they felt at hearing the voices of their sons.

All agreed the survival was miraculous, as the boys fell next to boulders that prevented them from being completely crushed.

The boys were hiking with their mothers and their sisters Thursday two miles up a trail in the Denny Creek area, 50 miles east of Seattle, when they wandered into the mouth of the ice cave. With a deafening crack, a 50-foot swath of the cave's roof crashed down on them.

The boys were able to breathe from air pockets, an uncle said, adding they attributed their survival to the way that some of the rocks and ice chunks fell around them.

"Two rocks fell on each side of the boys and that kind of supported the weight around them," keeping them from being crushed under the tons of debris, Tom Skepetaris, Corbett's uncle, told The Seattle Times.

"They were able to talk to each other and hold each other's hands," he said, adding both boys are expected to fully recover.

Even rescuers were amazed at the outcome.

"I don't think there's anybody who thought we were going to bring out two live, talking patients," said Eastside Fire and Rescue Lt. Dean deAlteriis.

Nearby hikers rushed to help as one boy's mother called 911. Marilyn Pyke, of Graham, was leading a youth group outing; she said she and others tried to use sticks to chisel away at the ice, but stopped after realizing how unstable the snow was.

When rescuers arrived, they used a chainsaw to slice away 1-foot cubes of ice, and they could eventually hear the boys yelling. The boys spent about five hours "pancaked" by at least six feet of ice, deAlteriis said.

A Navy helicopter flew them to the hospital Thursday night.

The ice cave was in a ravine bordered by sheer rock walls on either side. The ravine had filled with snow, and a small creek, or cascade of melted snow, had carved out a cave, with a roof of compacted snow and ice. The boys were several yards inside the mouth of the cave when it collapsed. It had likely been weakened by recent rain and warm weather.

The chainsaw that proved so invaluable during the rescue was nearly an afterthought, deAlteriis said. As rescuers headed to the ravine, one called out, "Hey, let's take a chainsaw." The idea was that they might need it to cut trees for purposes of shoring up a wall of the ice cave or a trench.

"Without that chainsaw, different story," he said, shaking his head.

In their statements, the families thanked rescuers and other hikers who "risked their lives" to help.

"God is good, and we have our boys back," the Gelminis wrote.