Chloride girl dies in mine, sister critical

A 13-year-old Chloride girl is dead and her 10-year-old sister in critical condition after the two fell the equivalent of six stories into an unmarked and uncovered mine shaft while riding an ATV Saturday.

The two sisters were reported missing in the mountains of Chloride Saturday evening while enjoying a weekend ride with their father, authorities said. Following an 11-hour search, the father and Mohave County Sheriff's Office rescue workers discovered the girls at the bottom of a 120-foot brush-covered mine shaft.

Thirteen-year-old Rikki Howard was pronounced dead at the scene, and 10-year-old Cassie Hicks sustained "significant injuries," authorities said; she is listed in critical condition after being transported to the University Medical Center in Las Vegas.

"I understand she is in critical condition, but the reports I received were fairly favorable," MCSO Capt. Greg Smith said at a news conference Sunday.

The two girls were riding an ATV in the area of Cherum Peak and Windy Point, approximately six miles north of Chloride, Smith said.

The girls were following their father, who was riding a dirt bike.

"Continually, the father would check on them and make sure they were still back there, then ride on ahead ... Well, at one point, he discovered that the girls weren't there anymore," Smith said.

The father spent a couple hours searching the mountain before calling the Sheriff's Office around 7 p.m. Saturday to report them missing, according to Smith.

Working through the night with search and rescue crews, the father reportedly called out to the girls and finally received a response.

While retracing the path, "Suddenly the father called out and received an answer from one of the girls from off the road," Smith said. "Just off the road, concealed by a line of brush, is a mine shaft; a vertical mine shaft. It's about 120 feet deep."

The shaft was unmarked and uncovered except for some brush, which hid the site from rescue crews during earlier searches of the area.

Smith said Sunday during a press conference, which was attended by several national television news stations, that one of the girls was underneath the ATV at the bottom of the shaft.

He could not clarify which of the girls was underneath the ATV.

The girls, who reportedly were not wearing helmets, fell the equivalent of six stories to the bottom of the mine, where they remained until approximately 10:20 a.m. Sunday.

Hicks was conscious and talking when rescue crews arrived.

"I think it's a wonderful miracle," Smith said about the girl's survival.

Responding to questions from reporters about the safety of the terrain and procedures in appropriately marking mining sites in the area, the captain said there are numerous mine shafts dating back to the turn of the century, and ATV riding is common there. He directed additional questions about what's appropriate for marking, barricading or adequately covering the sites to the state mine inspector's office, which currently is conducting an investigation into the accident.

According to the Associated Press, Deputy Director Laurie Swartzbaugh from the Arizona State Mine Inspector's office said that the mine shaft had not been used for some time, and since Jan. 1, the office has secured 108 abandoned mines.

Smith and Swartzbaugh said the owner of the shaft currently is unknown.