Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 1999-04-27
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Mount McGinnis, near Juneau
State: AK
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowboarder, caught, buried, and killed

Text below is provided by the Anchorage Daily News. They have provided excellent coverage of all avalanche accidents in AK this winter. Please go to their web site and view the entire article. It contains most of the links of accidents in AK this year. We hope that this information will keep you from being their next cover story.

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The second victim (Winchell) was killed in a fall after the avalanche. She was descending the slide path and went over a cliff, after Brakel was caught.

Avalanche kills snowboarding pair.

Mount McGinnis slide boosts Alaska

death toll to 11 this year


Daily News Juneau bureau

JUNEAU - Two local snowboarders were killed

Tuesday morning when an avalanche with boulder-sized

chunks of snow and ice swept them more than 2,000 feet

down a prominent peak about 12 miles from downtown.

Katrina Winchell, 32, and Matthew Brakel, 33, were

found unconscious and partly buried after the slide came

to rest around 10:30 a.m. on the west side of Mount


They were taken by helicopter to Bartlett Regional

Hospital where they were pronounced dead a short

while later of multiple trauma injuries, according to

hospital spokeswoman Marijo C. Toner.

The accident brought to 11 the number of people killed

in avalanches in Alaska this year, including six

snowmachiners buried at Turnagain Pass on March 21.

"It was a snowboarder who triggered it," said Bill

Glude, who runs the Southeast Alaska Avalanche Center

and was preparing to guide another group of skiers on

Mount McGinnis when the slide broke loose Tuesday.

Glude, who helped in the rescue, said the slide carried

Winchell and Brakel nearly to the bottom of the

McGinnis Creek drainage on the west side of the


Ordinarily late April is not a time of especially high

avalanche hazard in theJuneau mountains, he said. "The

norm is to have a pretty stable snowpack this time of


Winchell and Brakel were among a group of five skiers

and boarders who chartered a helicopter to drop them

on mountain's summit on one of the rare sunny days in

Juneau this spring. The other three skiers were not

injured, said Lt. Beth Weldon of Capital City Fire


The group had brought cameras to take photos and shoot

video of their skiing, said James Wilson, president of

Coastal Helicopters Inc., which flew the group to the

mountain Tuesday. The Coastal pilot noticed the

avalanche as he flew away, and radioed for help,

Wilson said.

"He saw it going," Wilson said. "It was a pretty steep


Helicopters ferrying other skiers into the area found

Winchell and Brakel, Glude said.

McGinnis is a 4,228-foot peak that juts up on the west

side of the Mendenhall Glacier. It is a popular

heli-skiing location because it's so close to Juneau,

Wilson said. Coastal charges $1,025 an hour to charter

its helicopters, he said.

Friends and co-workers described Winchell and Brakel

as excellent snowboarders experienced with

backcountry terrain.

Winchell, who moved to Alaska several years ago from

Southern California, worked as a manager at the Hangar

on the Wharf restaurant in downtown Juneau.

The Hangar closed for several hours Tuesday afternoon

as Winchell's friends and co-workers gathered there

after hearing of her death.

"We're just crying together," said Murray Damitio, one

of the restaurant's managers. "This is just the most

overwhelming tragedy for all of us."

Brakel was a ski instructor and operated snow

grooming equipment at the Eaglecrest Ski Area on

Douglas Island this winter. He had worked at the ski

area for several years and taught children with the

Juneau Ski Club, said Paul Swanson, Eaglecrest


"He lived for skiing and boarding," Swanson said. "He

never said anything bad about anybody. He had lots of


Much of Southeast Alaska has been deluged with rain

and buried with snow over the last month. That may

have kept people out of the backcountry, said Bruce

Bowler, team manager of the rescue group Southeast

Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search, or


The group has had four rescue calls so far this year,

compared with as many as 45 calls in past years, he


Despite rain at sea level, Glude said snowpack at

higher elevations on peaks around Juneau is less than

normal right now.

Wilson said Coastal, which doesn't offer guided tours,

hasn't had one of its charter skiers die before.

"Anytime you take people back in that country, there's

always a possibility of avalanches. We've seen

numerous avalanches," he said. "I haven't seen anyone

get caught in one."

Tuesday's fatal avalanche outside Juneau brings to 11

the number of people killed in avalanches around

Alaska since late March.

A list of those previous fatal avalanches:

* April 16: Kenneth Hayes, 44, of Healy was killed

while riding his snowmachine in Caribou Pass in the

Alaska Range near Cantwell when snow on one side of

a canyon collapsed. Another snowmachiner in the group

suffered leg injuries.

* April 15: Gary Stone, 46, a backhoe operator from

Cordova, was killed after being buried by an avalanche

at a power-plant construction site in a Chugach

Mountains canyon north of Cordova. Searchers said the

slide filled a creek with snow about 20 feet deep.

* April 3: Odman Schmalzried, 40, of Wasilla was

killed while snowmachining near the Nelchina Glacier

in the Chugach Mountains about 75 miles east of

Palmer. Witnesses said the man was "high-marking" -

competing with other riders to leave the highest track on

a mountain - when a snow ledge up to a half-mile wide

slid down and buried him.

* March 21: Six snowmachiners were killed in

Turnagain Pass, 25 miles south of Anchorage, after

being buried by a mile-wide ridge of snow that broke

off in the Chugach Mountains. The riders were taking

part in a game of high-marking. The men were identified

as Jodi Combs, 26, Jeff Saunders, 29, and Chris Scott,

28, all of Anchorage; Dan Demers, 37, of Eagle River;

Tech Sgt. Victor Jones, age unknown, of Elmendorf Air

Force Base; and Aaron Arthur, 29, of Palmer. Arthur's

body has not yet been recovered. @Credit:q Reporter

Robert Kowalski can be reached at