Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2004-02-13
Submitted By: NWAC; Mark Moore
Place: Banff National Park
State: AB
Country: CANADA
Fatalities: 3
Summary: 3 ice climbers buried and killed


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Avalanche near Lake Louise kills three U.S. ice

climbers: MOUNTAINEERING I Park wardens say warm

afternoon temperatures softened the snow

Robin Summerfield, Emma Poole and Colette Derworiz

Calgary Herald

February 14, 2004

LAKE LOUISE, Alta. -- Three

experienced ice climbers, including

two police officers from

Washington state, are dead after

being swept off an icefall in an

avalanche in Banff National Park.

The three Puget Sound area men,

on holiday with friends, were on

Mount Wilson, about an hour north

of Lake Louise, when the

avalanche swept over them

Thursday afternoon.

Dead are city of Redmond police

Lieutenant John Miner, 53, of

Kenmore, Wash., and Russ

Howard, 42, with the city's

public-works signal division. The

third victim was identified as

Pierce County Deputy Sheriff Jim

Andrues, 66, of Tacoma, Wash.

All three men were experienced

mountaineers on holiday with four

other men from the state. This is

the third year in a row the group

had visited the mountain park.

"Both men were dedicated and

valued employees, ones we very

much miss," Redmond Mayor

Rosemarie Ives said Friday of

Miner and Howard. "Our prayers

go out to their families who are

suffering a great loss. Our city

family is also having a difficult

time with the news -- it's very hard

to lose one of your own."

Miner and Andrues were also

members of the Tacoma Mountain

Volunteer search and rescue team.

The six men separated into two

groups before heading out at 8:30

a.m. Thursday to tackle climbing


The accident happened between 2

and 3 p.m. as temperatures in the

area warmed up with the

afternoon sun.

The victims were climbing on a

route called Midnight Rambler, an

ice climb that has an 80 degree

grade and is considered a

challenging route suited for experienced climbers.

At about 7 p.m., the second group went looking for the three men after they

failed to turn up at a prearranged rendezvous point.

"They went to the waterfall and that's where they found the avalanche, a rope

and a helmet. They then contacted Parks Canada," said Gus Bush of the

rescue unit. A rescuer on the scene said the avalanche was not caused by the


"When you look up high, there are slabs that were pulled out up high so it was

likely a natural triggered avalanche from the heat of the day yesterday," said

Marc Ledwidge, a public-safety specialist with Parks Canada.

At the time of the accident, the temperature in the climbing area was -15 C,

while on top of the mountain, temperatures hit -1 C as the sun hit the upper


There was considerable avalanche risk in the area in the past two days and

Ledwidge said he has recently warned climbers to hit their routes early in the

day to avoid the increased avalanche risk that comes with the afternoon sun.

It is not known how high up on the route the men were or how far they fell.

The avalanche swept down the gully and the debris field measured five metres

deep, making searching for the men, who weren't wearing avalanche beacons,


Climbers in the second party, also Tacoma Mountain Rescue members, headed

to a nearby park warden's office to report the accident. Wardens in Banff got

the call at 8:30 p.m. Thursday and immediately headed to the scene.

Park wardens and rescue personal were on the scene by midnight Thursday

night searching for the climbers using probes and two avalanche dogs and

their handlers from Jasper and Banff. Within minutes the first victim was found

by an avalanche dog. The search continued until about 3 a.m. and resumed at

about 6:30 a.m. Friday.

The second climber was found by 9 a.m. and the body of the third was

recovered by 10:30 a.m. Friday morning. Eighteen search and rescue

personnel, the two dogs and their handlers were involved in the search for the

victims, who were recovered under under 1.5, two and four metres of snow.

Puget Sound climbers killed in Banff avalanche

05:57 PM PST on Friday, February 13, 2004

From KING Staff and Wire Reports

BANFF, Alberta - Three ice climbers who died in an avalanche Thursday night in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, were city employees in Redmond and Pierce County, Wash.

The men was identified as a Pierce County sheriff's deputy, James Andrues, 66, and two employees of the City of Redmond - Lieut. John Miner of the police department and Russ Howard, 42, a traffic signal technician with public works.

They were all experienced mountaineers. Andrues and Miner were team leaders of the Tacoma Mountain Rescue group. They were involved in recent high-profile searches, including the successful recovery of a missing skier at Alpental, Dan Witowski.

"People right now are shocked," said Ed Troyer, Pierce County Sheriff's Department spokesman. "These are people that are the type that go up and save people that get themselves in trouble?These are the guys that through their lives and careers have gone up and taken them off the mountain, save their lives."

"John was a great guy, he's been with the city for well over 25 years and basically just a person you would go to," said spokesperson of the Redmond Police Department, Stacey Holland. "Everyone would always go to John with any questions that they had because he knew everything about the police department."

John Miner was a police officer in Redmond, Wash.

Miner is survived by his mother, father and brother. He was an accomplished mountaineer, having climbed Mount Rainier, and peaks in Peru and the Himalayas.

Russ Howard was said to have two great passions - his family and being on the mountain. Also an experienced mountaineer, Howard is survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons.

It took about 18 rescue officials nine hours to find the three bodies using avalanche dogs and probes, since none of the three was wearing an avalanche beacon.

When friends of the three victims came upon the giant heap of snow left at the base of the frozen waterfall by an avalanche, they knew nobody could have survived.

Russ Howard was a traffic signal technician for the City of Redmond, Wash.

Canadian rescuers say the men may have been victims of a deadly illusion - frigid temperatures in the valley bottoms where they were, which are perfect for ice climbing, but there was a warm air inversion lurking above them.

"So they wouldn't have known that of course, so it was actually getting quite warm up high and they wouldn't have known it," said public safety specialist Marc Ledwide of Parks Canada. "Even this morning there was a concern for us."

Experts said there were dozens of surprise avalanches in the park Thursday.

Last year was the worst year ever for avalanche deaths in Canada. The Canadian Avalanche Association said 29 people died, including 19 skiers, nine snowmobilers and two others.

Two other climbers survived the avalanche.