Monday, 27 Mar 2023

3 Killed in Avalanche in Washington’s Cascade Mountains

Three climbers who were attempting to reach the peak of a mountain in Washington State over the weekend were killed after a climber in their group triggered an avalanche as they ascended, prompting a dangerous white mass to hurtle toward them, the authorities said.

The climbers, who were part of a group of six members of a New York-based Korean climbing club going on that ascent, had encountered heavy snowfall and extremely strong winds on Sunday as they attempted to reach an 8,705-foot peak in the Cascade Mountains, a range that attracts thousands of visitors each year with its sweeping views of the frosted landscape.

They apparently were not aware of the avalanche forecast for Sunday morning as they suited up and moved higher in elevation toward Colchuck Peak, said Rich Magnussen, the emergency management program specialist for the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office, which interviewed the three survivors on Tuesday.

“It’s real extreme conditions up there,” Mr. Magnussen said. “So when you get snow down here in the valley, you can times it by 10 up there.”

The climbers, whose names were not released by the sheriff’s office and whose remains have not been recovered, had been making steady progress, reaching 7,200 feet high up the mountain when, around 1 p.m., the person leading the group triggered a crackling avalanche, the sheriff’s office said.

Four of the six climbers were struck by the pile of snow, ice and rocks, which sent them crashing down about 500 feet, Mr. Magnussen said. The other two were behind a rock when the avalanche occurred and were not injured, he added.

“They just got really lucky,” Mr. Magnussen said.

The fourth climber who was struck by the avalanche and survived had a knee injury.

That climber, who is from New York State, saw that two of his friends had died instantly, but a third appeared to be hanging on. He performed CPR, but about an hour after the initial slide of snow, three more huge slides came down on them.

“What they’re telling us is after those other slides, it looks like it may have covered the three up,” Mr. Magnussen said, referring to the three who died.

The three survivors trekked down to their camp, but reaching the authorities proved difficult since the group had not brought a communication device or an emergency beacon.

A seventh member of the club who had not gone out with the others that day was at their base camp near Colchuck Lake, waiting for the climbers to return. That person had to hike to the trailhead, get in a vehicle, and then drive to a nearby town to call the sheriff’s office to seek help, Mr. Magnussen said.

He added that officials were not informed of the episode until about 8 a.m. Monday.

The authorities deployed rescue groups to the area where the three survivors had been, but because of the avalanche conditions and heavy snowfall, “it was decided they weren’t going to be able to make it up to the location of the three victims who were still up on the mountain,” Mr. Magnussen said.

The sheriff’s office is hoping to send helicopters on a recovery mission for the bodies on Thursday, if the weather allows.

The deaths on Sunday were the first ones connected to an avalanche in Washington this winter season, said Scott Schell, executive director of the Northwest Avalanche Center. Nine people have been reported killed this winter in avalanches in the United States, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. In the 2021-22 season, 17 deaths were reported.

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