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NORTHWEST AVALANCHE FATALITY SUMMARY
Date: Sunday afternoon, 1/18/98
Location: Near Lion Rock, south-southeast of Blewett Pass, central Washington Cascades
Type: SS-AO-3, 200 ft wide, 2-4 ft slab depth, 4-500 ft vertical; Slide released to depth hoar near ground
The victim was high marking a relatively steep (30-35 degrees at the high mark point to 40-50 degrees near the rocks above near the ridgeline) east facing slope at about 6000 feet when his machine got stuck at the high mark. While trying to pull his machine around, the slope about 100 feet above him fractured to the ground, subsequently carrying him and his machine about 4 to 500 vertical and burying him under 2-3 feet of snow. Nearby snowmobilers used trail marker wands to probe for the victim but failed to locate him. After avalanche control of adjacent slopes to protect rescuers Monday morning produced further large climax slides, organized rescue efforts Monday afternoon found the victim through coarse probing. The victim was located about 60 feet below and 20 feet across the slope from his machine.
The victim was not wearing a transceiver, and snowmobilers who responded to the accident did not have probes or shovels. The weather at the time of the accident appears to have been overcast with some light snow. Currently wind speed and direction are unknown. It is also unknown if the victim had any avalanche training.
The snowpack depth near the scene of the accident ranged from about 2 feet to over 6 feet (in wind deposited areas). Recent snowpits near the site as well as snowpits done at the fracture line indicated 12-24 inches of recrystallized snow near the ground, with depth hoar/cup crystals to 4-5mm close to the ground and well faceted snow to 2 mm near the top of the recrystallized snow. During the past 10 days about 2-4 feet of wind slab was deposited over the faceted snow, with several distinct layers within the wind slab. Ski penetration near the site was about 12 inches, and boot and snowshoe penetration was reported to be at the ground in some areas. Avalanche control done near the accident site to protect rescuers released several climax slides to the ground--in fact every shot produced climaxes to the ground.
Avalanche Center Forecasts:
Avalanche warnings for high avalanche danger at all elevations were issued on Saturday for Sunday, and Sunday's morning forecast specifically detailed the exposure, weak snowpack structure and related avalanche dangers along the Cascade east slopes. It is unknown if the victim had any knowledge of the snowpack or of the forecast danger.
It is interesting to note that another snowmobiler related avalanche accident occurred last Thursday along the east slopes of the central Oregon Cascades (on Newberry Crater near Paulina Peak). This event had a more positive outcome, however, as the victim's friends were able to dig him out from under 5 feet of snow using tree branches and the windshield from one of their snowmachines.
From the NWAC:
A snowmobiler triggered and was killed by a relatively large climax slide on Sunday. In this accident, the snowmobiler was apparently high marking a 30-35 degree east facing slope at about the 6000 foot level near Lion Rock south of Blewett Pass. When his machine became stuck at the high mark, and while attempting to pull his machine around, a 2 to 4 foot slide released to the ground above him. The ensuing avalanche swept both the victim and his machine about 4-500 feet vertical and buried him under about 2-3 feet of snow. He was subsequently found by organized rescue and probing on Monday afternoon.
Snowmobiler dead after avalanche near Blewett Pass
KIRO-TV news 1/19/98
(Liberty, Wash.) -- A 37 year-old man is dead buried under an avalanche caused by his own snowmobile. Rescuers found the snowmobile shortly after the avalanche on Sunday but weren't able to recover the body of man, identified as Craig Rodgers of Lake Stevens until just a few hours ago. The rescue operation took place about 25 miles north of Ellensburg in Kittitas County. The man was one of several snowmobile operators who were "high marking" Sunday on Snowshoe Ridge Kittitas County Undersheriff John Jewett described high marking as running up a hill to see how far a snowmobile can go. "The activity of the group probably weakened or contributed to the face of the hill giving way," Jewett said. Four search dog teams from Pierce County and four members of the Snoqualmie Ski Patrol were summoned for the search Monday.
From the Ellensburg, WA Daily Record, probably 1/27/98:
Snowmobiler found deadbr by Andrea Sullivanbr Daily Record Staff Writerbr
Ellensburg -- The body of 38-year-old Craig D. Rodgers of Lake Stevens was found Monday afternoon [1/26/98 - MBL] by a Kittitas County Sheriff's deputy. Rodgers was found more than 20 hours after he was buried by an avalanche in the Snowshoe Ridge area near Lion Rock [southeast of Blewett Pass - MBL] late Sunday afternoon, officials said.
Earlier reports from officials said Rodgers and 18 other snowmobilers were in the area "high marking" when the avalanche occurred. High marking is a maneuver described as racing a snowmobile as far up a ridge as possible before being forced down by gravity.
Officials said it was likely the activity weakened or contributed to the face of the hill giving way.
Members of the Snoqualmie Ski Patrol, local Search and Rescue teams and the Kittitas County Sheriff's deputies continued their search early Monday morning after weather conditions halted efforts Sunday evening.
According to Undersheriff John Jewett, Rodgers' body was dicovered in two feet of snow 15 minutes after Department of Transportation avalanche control teams secured the area.
"Deputy Rob Hoctor located the individual by probing the snow", Jewett said. "Without the avalanche team and search-dogs, it would have taken longer to find him. We were fortunate to find him as quickly as we did. Otherwise we would have been totally dependent on the dogs."
Officials warn recreationalists to use extreme caution in the backcountry because of snowpack instability.
According to Craig Wilbour, DOT Avalanche Control Supervisor from Hyak and a search team member, the late start to winter and fluctuating temperatures have created a weakened bed for recent snowfall.
"I suggest that people stay off of all steep slopes in Eastern Washington", Wilbour said. "It is extremely hazardous right now, expecially east and north facing slopes and these conditions could persist until the end of March."
"We were very lucky more people weren't killed in this incident," Wilbour continued. "People should be prepared for avalanche conditions and carry tranceivers and shovels with them. If this man had been wearing a tranceiver, he could have been found alive."
Jewett said that an eyewitness account may have had Rodgers off his snowmobile instead of riding it when the incident occurred. Jewett said the investigation is continuing.