Woman dies after Deception Pass fall

An Oak Harbor woman was killed when she fell more than 200 feet while hiking a dangerous area of Deception Pass State Park with her husband and their 3-year-old daughter last week.

Rita Jean Willman, 37, died at the scene Nov. 13, according to Skagit County Sheriff's Sgt. Paul Arroyos. He said her death "appears to be an unfortunate accident," but an investigation is on-going.

Willman and her husband, Navy Lt. Eric J. Willman, had just finished having a picnic lunch with their daughter and were hiking in the area on the Skagit County side of the bridge above what is called the prison caves, Arroyos said.

"She went too close to the edge and slid," he said. "That's what we believe at this time."

Arroyos said the area is a slippery, unstable place to walk.

"I went up on the trail yesterday," he said Friday, "and it's pretty scary. You have to be careful where you step. It's treacherous."

Willman landed at the water's edge. Arroyos said her husband was the only witness to the fall, but a man who was in the area saw the body. He flagged down Capt. John Aydelotte of Marine Services, who was tugging a boat through the pass. They brought Willman's body to Cornet Bay.

Kim Martin, public affairs officer at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, said the Willmans moved to Oak Harbor in May. Rita Willman worked as a nurse at Whidbey General Hospital. Her husband is a nurse at the base hospital.

Arroyos said the prison caves are not a restricted area, but the park service doesn't advertise them because of the danger. He said this isn't the first time someone has fallen in the area.

Back in the early 1900s, inmates excavated rock from the caves. The caves were later boarded up. Arroyos said some remnants of the operation remain, including iron billets sticking in the cliff.

Martin said she's not aware of any memorial services planned for Willman yet.

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