Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 1999-01-18
Submitted By: Mark Moore, NWAC
Place: Near Mt. Baker
State: WA
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: Snowboarder caught, buried-still missing and presumed dead

Location: Mt Baker Wilderness, just east of Mt Baker Ski area on Shuksan

Arm (just below area that more recent accident occurred on 2/14/99)

Elevation and aspect: 4700 ft (1737m), E aspect; vertical fall ~2-300 ft

Size: SS-AS-2 (snowboarder)

Weather: Heavy snow, strong winds, very poor visibility

Preliminary Accident Narrative:

Snowboarder went under ropes marking ski area boundary and presumably

boarded off relatively small but steep (~35-45 degrees) east facing roll

that feeds into a large gully. This gully (Rumble Gully) acts as a funnel

for larger slides that normally release from a much larger N-NE facing bowl

about 800 vertical above, and it also marks a lower bench area that

accumulates significant debris. The boarder presumably released a 1-2 ft

wind slab that swept him into the lower bench and gully induced terrain trap

about 2-300 ft vertical below, apparently burying him quite deeply. When

friends of the snowboarder reported him overdue at base, the ski patrol was

dispatched. Upon arrival, the patrol saw faint evidence of a slab release

when arriving near scene, although there were sketchy reports about exactly

where the snowboarderleft the ski area boundary. Strong winds, heavy snow

and poor visibility hampered both the search and any visual evidence about

the extent or size of the avalanche. Additionally, the gully and likely

burial area posed an extreme and unacceptable high danger to would-be

rescuers, as it was threatened by a possible release of very large

avalanches from the highly unstable and steep ridgeline above. Upon

conducting avalanche control of the nearby area, a much larger slide

(approximately 8-10 ft fracture) released and re-covered the likely burial

area with a very deep deposit. Subsequent probing failed to locate the

apparent victim, and the search was called off after continuing heavy

snowfall and strong winds created an increasing danger for rescuers. Later

efforts with dog teams also failed to locate the apparent victim.

Ancillary information-Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center (NWAC) had

issued an avalanche warning for high danger for the Washington Cascades

above 4000 feet on Monday, 1/18/99, due to a combination of heavy snowfall

and high winds, and singled out northeast exposure slopes.