Warning issued after two accidental deaths in a month at Little Mashel Falls near Eatonville

EATONVILLE, Wash – A serious warning for families has been issued after two teenagers lost their lives at Little Mashel Falls in the Pack Forest near Eatonville.

Their deaths came within three weeks of one another, near the water falls, and have both been deemed accidental slip and falls.

Officials tell Q13 News they are looking at ways to secure the site and protect the public.

The hike on the Little Mashel Falls Trail may seem easy on the map, a half-mile downhill, resulting in a picturesque payoff, but it’s proven deadly. Detective Ed Troyer with Pierce County Sheriff’s Department reported last Friday that 18-year-old Noah Atchinson was taking a photo of the falls when he slipped and fell 125 feet to his death.

“It killed him instantly,” said Troyer.

It was the second time South Pierce Fire & Rescue responded to a fatal accident in a month, and the second that came from a slip and fall.

“In both of these cases, it was a footing issue,” said Bob Vellias, the chief of the department. Officials with the park told Q13 news it’s common to have accidents at the waterfalls in the Pack Forest, but not fatalities. However, with more people coming out to hike, they’re finding more are unprepared.

“They’re in flip-flops, they’re in sandals,” said Vellias. “It’s a really important message to anyone that’s going to go hiking, whether it’s at the Mashel Falls or any other location, is that they need to wear the proper clothing; they need to wear the proper shoes, a proper hiking boot.”

John Hayes is an environmental education manager in the forest. He is on the trails on a daily basis and said this year is worse than prior years.

“It’s been a relatively wet summer so far so the trail conditions are wetter than they would be around July and so there are steeper sections of the marked trails that are pretty slippery,” said Hayes.

He said you should never put your life on the line for a photo; instead, he said, “buy a postcard.”

“Really, the conditions of the waterfall and the swift water with this high flow of water we have now makes it extremely dangerous,” said Hayes.

It’s the conditions at the base of the falls that resulted in the death of 13-year-old Jayce Rosobough. Officials said he slipped and fell and was unable to swim.

“We did CPR, but were unable to revive him,” Troyer said of the June 26 accident.

Officials with the Pack Forest said they are now looking at ways to secure the main trails even further in the wake of the recent fatalities. They plan to add additional warning signs and may install fencing. However, they admit fencing has proven ineffective in the past in the area, and some locations are unable to be secured.

“If you stay on the marked trails, there’s less chance that you’ll get into one of those dangerous spots,” said Hayes.

It was by leaving the trail that put both teenagers  in harm’s way, said Vellias.

“I want people to enjoy the Northwest.  I think out in our area, it’s a beautiful area, just be prepared.”

Other suggestions Vellias wanted to stress was to never hike alone. He said always call someone outside your group to inform them of your plans to hike, when and where, as a backup plan.