Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: NWAC; Mark Moore
Place: Banff National Park
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
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
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
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.