Avalanche danger keeps search for missing hiker on hold

Print
Email
|

by Associated Press and KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on April 15, 2013 at 5:35 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 15 at 6:18 PM

SEATTLE  -- Rescuers for a second day have suspended a search for a hiker who has been missing since Saturday when he was caught in an avalanche in the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle.

Dangerous avalanche and weather conditions prevented rescuers from searching Monday, said Sgt. Cindi West with the King County Sheriff's Office. Rescuers hope to resume Tuesday, but by late Monday the King County Sheriff's Office was calling it a recovery operation.

Mitch Hungate, 61, a dentist and seasoned athlete, was with two other companions Saturday afternoon when an avalanche swept them more than 1,200 feet down Granite Mountain, a 5,600-foot peak about 45 miles east of Seattle. The two hikers said the last thing they heard was Hungate say "Oh no" before the avalanche.

The two friends emerged from the snow and called for help. They tried but weren't able to find Hungate.

"The longer the time goes on, the less chance of survival," West said Monday morning. But "we're not ready to say we're in recovery mode yet.”

"I really didn't want to leave him," said Hungate’s wife, Marilyn. "I want to be with him until he can be here with us.”

Beverly Walker, office manager at Mitch Hungate's dental office in Renton, said he is an incredible athlete who enjoyed competing in Ironman triathlons. "His athleticism was beyond anything anyone could comprehend," she said.

"You know, it's hard to hold out a glimmer of hope. I don't know what to feel. What to think. I guess I'm still in shock," co-worker Dr. Derek Hahn said.

A female snowboarder who was snowshoeing with her dog died after being caught up in a separate avalanche on Red Mountain Saturday. A group of a dozen snowshoers that were also caught up in the avalanche dug the woman out of five feet of snow and tried to keep her warm. It took rescuers hours to carry her on a sled down the mountain, where she was pronounced dead. She has not been identified.

Hikers found the woman's dog, named Blue, on Sunday, and the dog is now back with the woman's relatives, West said.

It was the first avalanche fatality reported in Washington this season, according to the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center in Seattle. Nationwide, 16 others have died avalanches this season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center said the avalanche danger in the area Monday is "considerable" above 4,000 feet.

Kenny Kramer, director of Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center, said 20 to 30 inches of snow fell over the weekend. All that new snow was weakly attached to the old snow crust, making it more unstable, Kramer said.

"We had a considerable danger," the meteorologist said Sunday.

Avalanches during the spring aren't rare, he said, noting that there's a secondary peak of mishaps during this time because the Northwest still sees winter-type storms. When that snow falls in the spring, it often warms up quickly, creating unstable conditions, he said.

Print
Email
|