Missing teen found dead near Camp Firwood

The search for a missing teen at Camp Firwood ended Wednesday with the discovery of his body in Lake Whatcom.
The search for a missing teen at Camp Firwood ended Wednesday with the discovery of his body in Lake Whatcom. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

An 18-year-old camper was found dead Wednesday in Lake Whatcom, about 24 hours after he had been reported missing from Camp Firwood, officials confirmed.

Bin Wang, a tourist from China, was last seen about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the top of a steep campground trail that leads to the water, said Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo. Wang’s shirt, shoes and other items of clothing were found nearby. Wang didn’t know how to swim, Elfo said.

Elfo said he was notified about 5 p.m. Wednesday that Wang’s body had been found by a dive team. He had no further details immediately.

Tom Beaumont, executive director at The Firs, which operates Camp Firwood, said Wang was the first death at the youth camp, which opened in 1955.

“I’m deeply saddened to report that the search ended this afternoon and our high school camper was found to be the victim of an accidental drowning,” Beaumont said via text message Wednesday night. “Our focus now is on caring for our campers, staff and parents.”

The Firs is a Christian conference center in the Geneva area of Bellingham and Firwood is located a few miles south along the Lake Whatcom shore.

Wang was among a tour group from Seattle that was visiting Firwood as part of a longer U.S. visit. Beaumont didn’t know the name of the tour operator or Wang’s hometown in China.

He said Wang’s parents had been notified that he was missing, and that campers and their parents had been informed of the search.

Camp Firwood’s current session is for high school-age campers, Beaumont said. Campers stay in cabins at the 120-acre wooded site, which has a summer staff of 90.

Some 260 campers are enrolled this week, Beaumont said. The camp has indoor dining and activity facilities, as well as recreation programs that include basketball, a ropes course, a climbing wall, studio arts and crafts, fishing, paintball, swimming, sailing, skateboard ramps, and theater.

Elfo said camp staff immediately conducted a search shortly after Wang was reported missing Tuesday evening. Sheriff’s deputies were alerted about 7:20 p.m., and South Whatcom Fire Authority was asked to assist with its rescue boat shortly after 8 p.m.

“We did some surface work (Tuesday night) and we continued until it was too dark,” said Assistant Chief Rod Topel. Firwood is just south of Sudden Valley.

Topel said South Whatcom firefighters had been asked to help with the search Wednesday morning.

Beaumont said a diver searched the waterfront Tuesday night and was in the water again Wednesday. Search and rescue personnel searched on foot and with dogs, he added.

Before he vanished, Wang was participating in a group game that included some water sports late Tuesday afternoon, Beaumont said. Campers looked for him for about an hour, then the full camp staff was alerted to conduct a more thorough search, he said.

“Looking back, that was the last time anyone remembered seeing him,” Beaumont said. “Everything on that spot is lifeguarded, so we don’t know.”

Some 20 searchers were at the camp Wednesday, Beaumont said, adding that regular camp activities were continuing with as much normalcy as possible.

The Bellingham Herald reporter Robert Mittendorf is a volunteer firefighter with South Whatcom Fire Authority.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty