Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2004-10-24
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Mt. Rainier, Ingraham Glacier Area
State: WA
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 2 climbers caught and buried, one killed

Here are a few updates regarding the fatality on Mt Rainier 10-24-2004. This info was taken from a preliminary report prepared by the park rangers who recovered the body and interviewed the surviving climbing partner.

The two climbers apparently reached the 11,700 ft elevation and found a crevasse they could descend into via a snow ramp. After descending into the crevasse that contained several large seracs, they found a different snow ramp to exit the crevasse. They ascended this ramp that was roughly 200 feet long and about 10 feet wide with an estimated slope angle of about 30-45 degrees with varying amounts of recent snow over the ice. When they reached to within about 10 feet from the top of this ramp they saw that the exit required a traverse across the small slope they were on. Their traverse near the top of the ramp apparently cut what became the crown of a small slab of between 8-12 inches. This small slide caught them and carried them about 150 feet down the ramp with the debris being confined by large ice blocks at the bottom. The victim was buried below his partner an estimated 5-6 feet under the snow with his head down and facing the block of ice. His partner was mostly buried, his legs buried an estimated 3 feet, only his left arm and part of his head were exposed. It took the partly buried victim roughly 30 minutes to uncover himself and about another 30 minutes to uncover his deceased partner.

Kenny Kramer, NWAC


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Mt. Rainier avalanche kills Monroe volunteer firefighter

By Jennifer Sullivan

Seattle Times staff reporter

With only his right hand free, Matt Little frantically dug himself out of what might have been his snowy tomb.

It took the 23-year-old construction worker about half an hour Sunday to paw his way out of the fresh avalanche on the southeast face of Mount Rainier. But by the time he reached his best friend and roommate, 21-year-old Aaron Koester, it was too late.

"He really did try to save his friend," said Little's mother, Theresa Little of Monroe, who recounted her son's story yesterday.

"He uncovered [Koester's] face ?€” and knew he was gone."

A search-and-rescue team in a helicopter recovered Koester's body from Mount Rainier yesterday, about 24 hours after the avalanche that killed the popular volunteer firefighter. Koester worked for Monroe Fire District No. 3, which serves the city of Monroe and nearby areas.

Little, who had managed to escape unscathed, hiked for more than four hours to find help.

Little and Koester, whom friends and relatives described as experienced outdoorsmen, were hiking across a crevasse on Ingraham Glacier, 11,000 feet up the 14,411-foot mountain, near Disappointment Cleaver, when the avalanche hit. The Monroe pals were training to climb Mount McKinley in Alaska.

The two men initially planned to summit Mount Rainier ?€” a feat they'd done before, said Theresa Little.

But after the men began their trip Friday, the weather worsened and they decided to stay close to Camp Muir, said Patti Wold, a spokeswoman for Mount Rainier National Park.

The climbers spent Saturday night at Cadaver Gap, then hiked to Disappointment Cleaver and Ingraham Glacier on Sunday. Once on the glacier, the men decided to descend a snow ramp into a crevasse.

After traversing the crevasse, the men began crossing a second snow ramp to climb out. That's when the avalanche hit, Wold said.

Theresa Little said her son didn't tell her about the impact of the avalanche, but she said he told her he was tied to Koester when the snow covered them. Little landed above Koester, she said.

"He said he would tell me about it when he got home," she said.

Little spent yesterday helping rangers with the recovery of Koester's body and describing the tragedy to park rangers.

Little told park officials that after pulling himself out of the snow, he used a radio to hail a hunter near Naches, Yakima County. The hunter notified authorities about Little and Koester.

Meanwhile, Little hiked to the Camp Muir Ranger Station, which is unmanned this time of year. Still, he managed to get access to a radio and called park authorities from there, Wold said.

Koester, who graduated from Monroe High School in 2001, had been a volunteer firefighter since January 2003. He was expected to apply for a full-time position when testing begins next month, said Fire District Chief Jamie Silva.

"I didn't know him that well, but one of my guys said that if you were tired and standing next to him you would be re-energized," Silva said. "He was full of life."

Yesterday, Jeff Martin of Monroe, a friend and former neighbor of the Koester family, described him as friendly, popular and athletic. He said Koester played basketball at the neighborhood backboard long after it got dark. Koester also played guitar at a local church, Martin said.

"Aaron was somebody who lived life to the fullest," Martin said. "He wasn't on a mountaintop looking to find himself. He knew exactly who he was and what he wanted out of life."

Koester was the fifth person to die on Mount Rainier this year.

In late June, climbers Ansel Vizcaya and Luke Casady, both of Montana, were killed by an avalanche while climbing Liberty Ridge. Jonathan Cahill, an Auburn firefighter, died June 3 attempting the Liberty Ridge ascent. Peter Cooley of Maine died in a fall from Liberty Ridge on May 15.

Information from Times staff reporter Brandon Sprague and The Associated Press is included in this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or