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The Today File

Your guide to the latest news from around the Northwest

April 13, 2013 at 4:34 PM

Search called off for missing snowshoer caught in avalanche near Snoqualmie Pass

Volunteers off Exit 52 along I-90 prepare to join rescue operations. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

A man with King County Search and Rescue runs toward the scene of an avalanche off Exit 47 along I-90 near Snoqualmie Pass. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

A man with King County Search and Rescue runs toward the scene of an avalanche off Exit 47 along I-90 near Snoqualmie Pass. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

SNOQUALMIE PASS — With darkness setting in, officials have called off the search for a missing snowshoer caught in one avalanche on Snoqualmie Pass, while people caught in a second avalanche, nearby, are being helped off the mountain.

The two avalanches had search and rescue crews scrambling all day, as they confronted initial reports of as many as three people missing in the deep snow.

But much of the confusion cleared by late evening, with one snowshoer unaccounted for but all others found.

The first avalanche took place around noon at Granite Mountain, near Interstate 90’s exit 47.  The second avalanche occurred a half hour later at Red Mountain, a few miles east.

The missing snowshoer is at the Granite Mountain site, where an avalanche caught three snowshoers, all from South King County, and carried them about 1,000 feet, said Sgt. Katie Larson of the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Two injured men emerged from the snow, but their companion did not, Larson said.

On Red Mountain, a woman was hiking with her dog near that group of 12 snowshoers when the avalanche struck, sheriff’s deputy E.R. Gagnon said. The snowshoers, who were at about 4,800 feet, realized the woman was missing when the dog, alone, came up to them afterward.

Members of the group went in search and found the woman under about 6 feet of snow, Gagnon said. She was conscious but experiencing hypothermia.

The avalanche split up the group of 12, with four making it off the mountain as of 5 p.m. Searchers made their way toward the remaining eight snowshoers — and the injured woman — as night fell, reaching them before 8 p.m.

The rescuers anticipate that it will take about two hours to get the eight snowshoers off the mountain. But it may take four hours – or until close to midnight – before they’re able to bring down the hypothermic woman, who is being carried on a litter.

Won Shin, 56, of Mukilteo, was among the four who made it off the mountain first. He said that when the avalanche hit, he suddenly saw snow all around him.

“The only thing I thought about was just, ‘Get out of here,’ ” he said. “I’ve never felt anything like that.”

He said his group of four had been lucky because they were close to trees that broke the avalanche’s impact.

The group of 12 friends are experienced snowshoers who make it into the mountains about every week, Shin said.

About 50 rescuers, with dog teams, searched Granite Mountain for the missing snowshoer, who is around 60 years old, Larson said. They battled “horrible” conditions while trying reach the man, she said.

Larson said the King County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t responded to avalanches like this since a deadly pair at Stevens Pass and near the Summit at Snoqualmie last February killed four.

But she said avalanches can be common this time of year.

“Whenever you have warm weather and then cold weather — and snow, it can be bad,” she said.

The avalanche danger was “high to extreme” Saturday, sheriff’s deputy E.R. Gagnon said.

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