Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2000-03-31
Submitted By: Garth Ferber, NWAC
Place: Copper Mountain, near Holden
State: WA
Country: USA
Summary: 2 climbers caught, one seriously injured

31 March 2000, Cascade Mountains, 0 fatalities, Washington, USA,

climbers, 2 climbers caught, one seriously injured.


The following information is from Peter Peterson, the pilot of the first

rescue helicopter, and from the Chelan County Sheriff's Office Search

and Rescue Report.

Peter Kliewer and Jeff Vernon were attempting a climb of Copper Mountain

(summit 8964 feet), starting from Holden, on the morning of 31 March

2000, in fair but warm weather. At about 1100 PST on the east to

southeast side of the mountain at about 7000 feet, they became aware

that the snow was becoming unstable, and began traversing to a safer

position. But both men were caught by a natural wet snow avalanche and

tumbled about 750 feet down mountain, to about an elevation of 6250

feet. The avalanche began about 200 feet above them in a chute between

some rocks. The avalanche ran further down to about an elevation of

5900 feet, where about 1.5 feet of debris accumulated. Peter was

seriously injured and unconscious immediately after the accident.

Although Jeff was also injured, he was able to hike out, and radio for

help from Holden at about 1440 PST. Apparently Peter temporarily

regained consciousness and was able to contact Holden using his own

radio before the arrival of the first helicopter. The first helicopter,

using directions from Jeff, located Peter and dropped off a medic at

about 1620 PST, who found Peter unconscious and near death due to

extreme hypothermia. The first helicopter returned to Chelan, and then

guided a second USAF helicopter to the site. The second helicopter

arrived at about 1924 PST, winched Peter on board, and carried him to

Wenatchee to a waiting ambulance. The medic met a ground rescue team

from Holden, and returned to Holden, where the first helicopter picked

up the medic at about 2245 PST and returned to Chelan.

Peter Kliewer sustained shattered (C1 and C2) vertebrae in his neck,

which were fused, he is undergoing therapy and is expected to walk

again. Jeff Vernon sustained a dislocated shoulder.


The last period of snowfall had ended a few days prior to the accident

and was followed by mostly fair weather in this area east of the Cascade

crest. Freezing levels had been fairly low during the fair weather, but

began rising fairly sharply on 31 March. The following are freezing

levels in feet above sea level for Forks (UIL) and Spokane (OTX), which

are about 150 miles west and east of the accident site respectively:


4 AM PST Wed 29 March 2500 4100

4 PM PST Wed 29 March 4300 4800

4 AM PST Thu 30 March 4300 5200

4 PM PST Thu 30 March 5500 5600

4 AM PST Fri 31 March 9000 6100

4 PM PST Fri 31 March 10800 6800

These freezing levels occurred at the beginning of the first major warm

up of the spring, with freezing levels rising on up to 11100 feet at

Forks (UIL) and 8600 feet at Spokane (OTX) by the morning of 1 April.

Morning low and afternoon high temperatures in Fahrenheit from the top

of the Mission Ridge Ski Area at 6740 feet preceding the accident:

Low High

29 March 15 32

30 March 23 35

31 March 30 43

Increasing northwest winds, as indicated by Mission Ridge instruments,

and high clouds at times may have reduced or prevented the refreezing of

snow the night of 30/31 March. The helicopter pilot reported a

temperature of 4 deg C (39 deg F) at the accident site at 1620 PST 31


Report prepared by:

Garth Ferber

Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center