Updated: 7-Year-old Dies At Acadia National Park As Hurricane Bill's Waves Wash Three Into Atlantic, Injure 13

Watching waves smash into the coastline is a popular activity at Acadia National Park. NPS file photo.

A 7-year-old swept into the Atlantic Ocean at Acadia National Park on Sunday by Hurricane Bill's waves was pronounced dead after being pulled from the cold waters, while 13 others also hit by the massive wave were injured with a variety of broken bones and bruises.

The unidentified girl was among three park visitors washed into the ocean. There were reports that two others also were missing in the ocean, but Acadia Chief Ranger Stuart West couldn't confirm them.

“We don’t know. We received a report that as many as five people were washed into the ocean, we can only confirm that three were," Ranger West said.

The prospect of watching high seas smash into the coast of Maine brought thousands to the park Sunday. An estimated 10,000 visitors were gathered along the park shoreline near the popular Thunder Hole, a crack in the park's granite foundation that features spectacular wave explosions during high seas, around noon when one of the waves washed over those gathered to watch.

“We’ve had seas the result of Hurricane Bill between 12 and 15 feet. That's a big attraction to everyone in the area, seeing the waves crashing into shore," said the chief ranger. “At the same time we had those folks washed into the ocean, we had 11 other injuries. A dislocated shoulder, a broken leg, broken ankle and a broken wrist, I believe.”

The incident spurred an air, land, and sea search for the missing. While park rangers searched the shoreline for the 7-year-old and any others who might have been knocked into the ocean, the Coast Guard had a 47-foot cruiser searching the waters, while overhead a helicopter and Falcon jet were also searching, Ranger West said. The Maine Marine Patrol also had a boat participating in the search.

Soon after the visitors were swept into the ocean, Coast Guard rescuers were able to pull a 12-year-old girl and the father of the 7-year-old to safety about 150 yards from shore, he said. There were unconfirmed reports that the man had jumped into the ocean in a bid to save his daughter, said the ranger. The two were taken to a Bangor, Maine, hospital and reportedly were doing OK, said Ranger West.

Sometime later the Coast Guard searchers spotted the young girl.

Immediately after the incident park authorities closed Ocean Drive to the public. Rangers then began the task of trying to determine whether there were any vehicles whose owners were missing.

"We’re trying to do what we can to determine if those two other phantom folks actually fell in the water or not," he said. "We're trying to do a count of the vehicles to see if there’s an unaccounted owner or owners to determine if someone is missing."

While the day had dawned cloudy at Acadia, by afternoon it was mostly sunny with temperatures approaching 80 degrees. The ocean temperature, though, was a brisk 55 degrees, according to the chief ranger.

Comments

I have been at Thunder Hole during conditions like this. It amazes me how stupid people can be. They will climb over and around gates that have been closed to keep people back. Just to get to the top of a rock at the edge of the ocean. They can clearly see the waves crashing all around them. I feel bad about the 7 year old. She did not know any better. ...

This comment was edited. -- Ed.

We were at Thunder Hole yesterday. We left about 45 minutes before the tragedy at about the time the rangers closed off the walkway to Thunder Hole. There were still hundreds of people who were below the level of the walkway on the adjacent cliffs. The rangers made no attempt to tell them to get off of those cliffs even though they had closed off the walkway and even though those people were within one hundred feet from the top of the walkway. This is one of the most blatant examples of why the Park Service should NOT have blanket immunity from suit in situations where people are hurt or killed in a park. When the Park Service's employees are obviously negligent, there should be accountabilty.

As he cleared people from the walkway, one ranger said "That's all I can do." To me it was obvious that people should have been told to leave the cliffs and that a few more rangers should have been assigned to the area to deal with the crowd. The waves were unpredictable and some had already reached the tops of the cliffs where people were standing. I guarantee that at least some of those people probably felt that, if there was any real danger, the rangers would have told them to get off the rocks.

Can anyone say that a seven year old girl would know that she was in danger on those cliffs? If the rangers had told her father to move, I am certain that he would have. People were quite cooperative with the rangers when they closed the walkway.

I love the parks and I respect the rangers and the difficult work they do. However, they - and more importantly - their supervisors in the Park Service - need to be held accountable when an imminently preventable tragedy like this occurs. Immunity breeds negligence. I know that we will hear the same old song from some people - "people need to be held accountable for their own stupidity and bad judgment." Ask yourself these questions: First, do you really want to blame a seven year old for "stupidity and bad judgment"? Second, do you realize that not everyone understands the dangers of nature as well as those of us who frequently avail ourselves of the wonders of the parks? Should the penalty for their inexperience be death? Should the penalty for stupidity be death? These questions will really haunt me, particularly because I saw how easily this tragedy could have been prevented.

I think common sense should prevail, the 7 year old had a parent there. It is indicated at all time in Acadia that you must go on the ledges and rocks at your own risk.

My wife and I and child were at Thunder Hole at about 11 am yesterday as well. There were clearly marked warnings not to proceed any closer to view the waves due to dangerous conditions. I agree with Mick (and both my wife and I were surprised) that there were NO park rangers there at all when we were there. There were many people far too close to the edge, seemingly thrilled by getting splashed by them. IDIOTS!! I fault first and foremost the parent(s) of the little girl, the Park Service at Acadia for no presence, and also everyone who was stupid to ignore the posted warnings and snuggle as close as possible to the waves, giving some poor souls the illusion of safety.

Mick, I'm sure that you are definitely feeling the sting of being so close to something so tragic, and I understand your assertion that the rangers should have done something more in clearing the area of tourists. But one thing that you must realize is that we, as individuals, have a responsibility to ourselves and to those around us to make our own judgments as to levels of imminent danger and approaching doom. Sometimes accidents just happen. At the very moment that this tragedy happened, we were in another Federally-run place - the Plum Island Refuge in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where the waves were tremendous. We were wading and occasionally body-surfing, and we had 2 kids there with us, and we let them do a little bit of wading and surfing as well. But here's the key, we only let them do a LITTLE bit of that, and only let them go out a very short way, because the surf was huge and the undertow was powerful. There were signs as we entered the park telling us about the undertow and that we were only to swim AT OUR OWN RISK.

When will we stop laying blame on others instead of accepting the fact that individuals are responsible for their own decisions and actions? If my nephew had gotten swept out to sea and drowned, heaven forbid, I wouldn't be blaming Fish and Wildlife for allowing us to be there. I would be blaming myself for being the one for letting "stupidity and bad judgment" rule my decision to let him go too far out. And if not everyone understands the dangers of nature as much as frequent Park-goers, then where does that leave us? Who knows the most about rogue waves? A marine biologist? An oceanographer? I'd lay money down that even they couldn't predict that a single giant wave that's bigger than all others around it would approach the shore and take out that family.

But the inherent risk was there - even when you were standing there on the shore yourself Mick, and it's a risk that we all take in going to a place like that. You said yourself that the waves were unpredictable and that some of them were reaching the tops of the cliffs where the people were. At what point does common sense enter into the picture? We can't take the risk and then after something bad happens say that it's someone else's fault. It's a horrible accident! It's a rogue wave that came in and swept people away and this poor little girl was horribly taken from her family. It's terrible, and it's very sad, but it's NOT the fault of any individuals at the Park. They closed the area off when they felt the wave action was getting worse but they can't be held accountable for an individual wave's size that came in just after that.

The moment this incident happened, the Plum Island Refuge where we were, was closed and I think that sets a bad knee-jerk reaction precedent. No one could go into the Wildlife Refuge (even to bird-watch, let alone go onto the beach) because there was a tragic death on the coast of Maine 4 hours north of there. The Feds, in effect, took common sense and free decision-making and responsibility out of our hands and simply closed everything. Hey, it's what they felt was the right thing to do at the time, and I respect that. But again, it eliminates a certain amount of freedom for those of us who are willing to make our own choices about our own personal safety and the safety of those around us, especially our little ones.

Everybody sues everybody these days, and it's killing us. A drunk driver isn't responsible for the 2 people he runs over - nope - it's the guy who sold him the alcohol. A person isn't at fault when they slip on the ice in front of City Hall and break there leg during a snowstorm - nope - it's the City's fault for not throwing salt down soon enough.

Park Service employees are stewards of the Parks they work at. They are not baby-sitters and they are not the parents of all who enter! We are our own keepers, and we need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for ourselves and our loved ones. I do not for one minute blame the poor father of that child, but there was a risk present on that walkway where he was standing and sadly nature prevailed and was too powerful for everyone who was there. It is not the Park's fault! I'm proud to sing that song of "people need to be held accountable for their own stupidity and bad judgment." I would go one step further and say that sometimes even judgment doesn't enter it, and accidents simply happen!

You are completely incorrect with your account of what happened. I was there when it did happen and the tourist were acting ... ignorant..... The park rangers were attempting to tell the idiotic tourist to get the hell off the rocks and some people were blatantly ignoring them to "get a picture". One ranger had to chase a person through the woods to get them back on the road and the guy was laughing....but he "got his picture".
It is the responsibility of an ADULT parent to get their kids off the rocks when they were told SEVERAL times to get away from the storm surge. Who the hell would put their kids in harms way like that? What were they thinking? Anyone .... could see this was a very dangerous situation and to get the heck out of the way... SO MANY PEOPLE were not listening and the thousands of people on the park loop rd well out numbered the rangers. They were adults and they were told....so don't blame this ... on the rangers....it was bedlam and the rangers did everything they could short of physically removing people or arresting them.

This comment was edited.--Ed.

Steve - You are so correct in everything you said. Your post should be nailed to the entrance of every Park.

Steve, exactly.

The biggest concept that needs to be grappled with here is that nature is dangerous and unpredictable. We live by this idea that it is not our job to keep us safe in situations we don't fully comprehend. It is indeed dreadful that a small child was lost and her lose should not be trivialized in this debate. What her lose shows us evermore, is that individuals are responsible for the dangers they expose themselves to. No, the park rangers should not simply ignore the dangers represented by the waters and I've seen their efforts in countless places to inform of those dangers. It is not their job to line up in right gear with clubs, tears gas and rubber bullets marching along clearing the rocks of oblivious wave-watchers. Nature is truly powerful. That power draws most of us out of our little dark boxes called apartments to see it, feel it, and learn from it. That doesn't mean that most of us ignore the dangers of even an innocent day hike in the woods. My 3 year old niece isn't old enough to know that just because the water is way down there right NOW...it might not stay that way. The knowing part is my job. The rangers do their job, I do mine and hopefully no one gets hurts. Blaming the park rangers for that little girls death or any of the other injuries from this weekend is like blaming the rangers for the twisting of my ankle on a tree root while I was hiking. They should have know better than to leave tree roots in the forest.

Thank God there are people in this world that realize that we are adults. We make our own decisions. If we make stupid or bad decisions the consequences are bad. Yes, I feel incredibly sad for the family that lost their daughter. It is a tragedy, an accident, a mistake. The loss of a family member is always difficult. Let the family mourn and hopefully as they heal they will see it as it is and not place "blame" where it doesn't belong.

Steve:
Thank you for articulating this point of view so well. Absolutely I agree with you and hope others can see the logic and the larger picture that you put out there for our consideration. I would encourage you to send your thoughts to area newspapers and get a wider audience's reaction.
best
Scott

Mick:

I feel your pain and my thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones on Sunday as I was at Acadia with my eight year old son and wife from Tuesday through Saturday walking on the same cliffs near Thunder Hole and the ocean. But you are not thinking of the consequencees of Park users being able to sue the Park Service. If this were to be the case, as soon as the Park Service lost their first suit, which would be inevitable in our legal system in the US, the cliffs at Acadia would be permanently closed to the public. Additionally, a trail like the Precipice Trail at Acadia would be permanently closed to the public. Next in line might be rock climbing at Yosemite or hiking in the Grand Canyon.

The National Parks are one of the last places left in the United States in which we as visitors have the freedom to explore nature and get as close to nature as we prefer. With this freedom comes repsonsibility. And unfortunately, if you take away our responsibility as users, you also take a way our freedom as users. That is just the way the tort law system works in this country.

usually the hurricane weather comes later after all the tourists have left, so we haven't seen this happen before. the problem is with people who aren't familiar with mother nature (people from away or the city,etc.) not knowing to respect her. Those of us brought up living off the land and sea are taught from the moment we could crawl a very healthy respect for mother nature. so many people only see such things on TV and have no concept of how dangerous they can be. It's too bad this tragedy will now cause the Park to put more severe restrictions on all of us now because some people couldn't at least respect the advice of the rangers trying to protect them. why do so many people feel laws are made for everybody else but them?

I was there at the park the day of the drowing and was one of the hundreds who stood along Ocean Drive and watched the Coast Guard pull two of the individuals from the water. Even as the rescue efforts were ongoing, park rangers were still yelling at people to get off the rocks; people who were trying to get a closer look at the rescue! It is amazing how irresponsible some people can be. It is a shame that that young girl died, but her father never should have allowed her to be in that position. As for those who want to blame park officials, you are typical of the ignorant and ill-formed who skirt personal responsibility and want to blame others for [your] stupidity. I live in RI and we have a cliif walk along the ocean in Newport. Recently an individual by-passed fencing and posted signs to "get a better look" at the ocean and he fell and is now a quadriplegic. He is suing the city of Newport. If this lawsuit is successful, the city will close the cliff walk and millions of would-be tourists will have to pay the price for one man's stupidity and ignorance.

I was also at Acadia over the week end. Although not there specifically to see the effects of Bill, I was fully aware of the Bill's impact. Signs, warnings, and rangers were ever present warning about Bill's potential. In fact, I was on the other side of the island that afternoon, witnessing again people ignoring Ranger's warnings about crossing Seawall Causway, refusing to leave the Seawall picnic area and getting angry that the Park Service had the nerve to close the area. We did get to Thunder hole the next day - when again people were all over the same rocks and again ignoring the same warnings about the sea's potential that led to tragedy the day before. I agree - if we choose to take risks, then we must live with that choice - the individual is responsible. It's just too bad that the decision of an adult entrusted with the care of a child was so wrong.

We were at the Schoodic Portion of Maine about two weeks before this tragedy happened. We were on the point--we were on the white rocks and my son was about 6 feet down in front of us--not at all near the spray or splash--in my mind a safe spot. Park Ranger Megan came down on the rocks and told my son and a bunch of people who were further on the point than him that they needed to back up. She then spent about 15 minutes talking to the kids about the danger of the waves. She shared with the kids that usually once a year someone gets swept off the rocks and they aren't allowed to go in and try to rescue them and that the waves are unobstructed as they travel the Atlantic so rogue waves can potentially happen. It was a lesson my son and daughter would never forget. When the tragedy happened, their only question is why didn't ranger Megan tell those kids to get back--not realizing she wasn't at that location and certainly couldn't be everywhere all at once. I wrote Megan a note to thank her for the lesson and express my sympathy to all of the park rangers and the families for the tragic events. The park ranger's job cannot be an easy one, but my experience at Schoodic showed that they were being more than responsible by providing information and education. The fact that she took the time (not just to yell at them--but to educate) is something I will remember for my lifetime. I have no doubt if Ranger Megan saw anyone on the rocks in a too-close position in Schoodic during this storm--they would have been moved--and educated on the power of the ocean.

I totally disagree with this comment. We already have too many lawyers and lawsuits in this country. I don't want to increase the level of influence lawyers have on our culture and quality of life. People (Parents) need to have common sense - especially with protecting their young children. If anyone is negligent with respect to this unfortunate tragedy, it falls squarly on the parents of this child. As a parent of three children, I feel we are primarily responsible for protecting our children - not park rangers. I can't imagine the loss the little girl's father must be feeling. I am going to do whatever I can to diligently protect my children and do my best to keep them away from dangerous situations like these. It's not worth the risk!!!

I have to agree, the park is accountable here. Parents who visit here from out of state have "no" idea what kind of danger might be in store for them. It is the responsibility of the "Park" to inform people, close Thunder hole, and protect those who are ignorant of the risk ! The park was negligent ... and I've been there many times.

Awesome comments! I totally agree with what you said and you said it well.

I don't want the government getting gun-shy and closing everything down on the possibility that someone might get hurt every time there's rough weather. I really believe in personal responsibility as well. I feel so, so bad for that family though.

This is an answer to Mick's question: "do you really want to blame a seven year old for "stupidity and bad judgment"?

No Mick, her father is to blame and her father will bear the heavy burden of his misjudgment for the rest of his life. Long after you and I have stopped thinking about this story he will be left to his own thoughts and heartaches about the daughter that HE lost. The bereaved father can be forgiven and even forgive himself, but he will always remember.

I have been going to Acadia for 25 years with my 5 sons and I was always, even after they were in their late teens, concerned about their safety. I hope her death will help others to be more cautious in the future.

The park staff does not exist to babysit and handhold each visitor that comes to visit. Everyone needs to take personal accountability for their own actions (and in this case, accountability for their children’s actions). I would wish this tragedy on nobody. However I cannot stand the mentality of people transferring blame because of their own stupid, ignorant actions. If you ignore warning signs, and repeated requests from Rangers (according to several first-hand posts above) to back away from the surf, how is the Park Service responsible for a rogue wave? Is the Coast Guard responsible for not anticipating and tracking this wave? Is the National Weather Service responsible for not warning the park while tracking the hurricane?

Maybe at every entrance to a park we should post a sign that says 'If you are going to act dumb.....you better be tough' - take responsibility for your own actions.

Well my family and I were at the Acadia Park that day.First we decided to go to Sand Beach and like everyone we walked along the beach.I told my husband that I thought that water was powerful and it scared me.So we continued on our walk on the beach.My 8 year daughter and I removed our sandals and decided to go further away from the crowd.We were very far from the water and out of nowhere a wave came all the way to where we were and threw me down...I was holding on to my daughter for dear life!I told my husband I had seen enough so we continued on our journey.We went all around the rocks and watched the water hit...mind you we stopped alot.I took so many pictures.We stopped where the tragedy happened and took pictures and a Ranger told us not to go close that it was dangerous,I agreed and backed off.I couldn't help but notice all the people on the rocks taking pictures and just standind there.I then advised my husband that I wanted to leave because all this scared me.I told him someone was definetly gonna get hurt today.My 6th sense was kicking in for sure!I had parked our car on the side of the road so we proceeded to get in ,camera in one hand.I sat down in the car and all of a sudden out of nowhere this big wave splashed and I couldn't help but see a lady walking in the path getting drenched!We looked to see for the people sitting on the rocks and left!I took pictures and when I checked the following day the time on my picture was 11:51a.m.I am sooooooooo glad I didn't witness it!I will stay clear of the ocean from now on....I have learned to never and I mean never under estimate the power and force of mother nature.Being a mom of an 8 year old.I cannot express what I feel for those parents.God had a plan!

I was one of the persons swepted over by the wave sunday the 23rd and sustained a broken left leg and right hand and felt very lucky. I must correct some of the comments. I was w a small group far far from Thunder Hole., maybe a mile or 1 1/2 miles. I entered the Park from Otter Cliff Road where we started our walk down the shore line path. There were no warnings posted and none expressed by a ranger that i passed on the shore line path. The "wave " came up as i stood a good 65 yards from the cliff edge. Before this "wave" the prior waves were not theatning or crashing near our feet but at the rocks edge. With a sunny day and no comments from the Ranger i thougth i was at a safe distance. Most of the visitors are not from Maine and do not know the dangers of a rocky coastline w high surf waves.
Here on the Gulf Coast-- the beaches and roads are closed when there is a tropical storm or hurricane is offshore .
My thoughts and prayers are w the little girl's family

Yes I do have to say you are right...because I was there that day and like I said in the story above."I was walking on the beach with my family and out of no where this BIG WAVE came I fell down and held on to my kid for dear life!It spooked me so much that I was a little iffy stopping at certain parts of the parks.There were people sitting on rocks taking pictures and I was like what in the heck are they thinking.The ranger did tell us not to go close but we were not half as close as the ones sitting on the rocks.I think that I have stayed scarred for life!I am glad you are ok and my heart does go out to the family that has lost their child.....Being a mom of an 8 year old daughter I cannot even imagine!They would still be plucking me off the rocks...OUFF!!!!I am sure you are feeling blessed ecspecially when you think what could have happened...Take Care.

I just came back from Thunder Hole and was wandering where the 7yr old girl and father were standing when they were hit by the wave. Does anyone know ?
We were on the walkway and I felt such a sadness and ery feeling there, and with that just happening There was a family sitting on a rock with the waves splashing on it, to the left and out further than the
beginning of the walkway.

My husband disslocated his shoulder while we were on a cliff watching the waves near Thunder Hole that day. He was the first injury that morning just before noon.
I too was just amazed at how many hundreds of spectators like us, were all over the rocks, and parked along the roads getting out of their cars to watch these amazing swells and waves hitting rocks etc. that Sunday. Children, mothers with babies..... There were NO WARNINGS to stay away, or to stay off the rocks from the Park Rangers.
When my husband came up to the road with his disslocated shoulder, the park ranger who had been summonded by our 16 yr old son , just said to us "so what do you want me to do for you?" It was quite evident that we needed assistance to the hospital. We asked him ,and he kindly took my husband to Bar Harbor hopsital for treatment in his Jeep.
To me, it seemed this park ranger was not at all expecting a situation where people were going to get hurt and killed. We just assumed there was no danger in being there that morning. There had been talk on the news about the high tide, and swells from Hurricane Bill, but who would have thought there would be injuries and a loss of life?
Either the park rangers in that area are not experienced in deaiing with these hurricane conditions, or maybe they lack the knowledge to know when to make a call to close the area to a potential dangerous site.
I only hope this tragic day, the loss of a little girl, and injuries to so many, will encourage the Park rangers to focus on new measures to keep us all safe.

Thk you for your reply to my comment.....
I hope the acadian park serive learns from this unfortunate event that not all tourists understand the risks of the ocean and how storms can create a sudden larger waves than the prevoius ones. The park needs to concentrate on safety and not just tourism.
I also would like to thk the kind couple that assisted me. My friend and i had trouble getting some one to help me at first. i needed to be pulled up away from the rocks where i had landed and everyone around seemed to just stand there, not willing to help. If the nice couple is reading this blog-- i have your tennis jacket you loaned me while i was freezing due to the cold wet water
THX