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Date: 2006-02-28
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Marmot Mountain, Hatcher Pass Area
State: AK
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowboarder caught and buried. Still missing and presumed dead.

OFFICIAL REPORT FROM ALASKA MOUNTAIN RESCUE GROUP

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www.avalanche.org

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Anchorage man buried in snow in Hatcher Pass

AVALANCHE: Friends saw Brendan Smart disappear into slide. He is presumed dead.

By ANDREW WELLNER and JOE DITZLER

Anchorage Daily News

Published: March 1, 2006

Last Modified: March 1, 2006 at 05:54 AM

HATCHER PASS -- Hazardous conditions Tuesday night kept searchers at bay on Marmot Mountain, where an afternoon avalanche swept away an Anchorage snowboarder who was in the area with friends.

Alaska State Troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson identified the snowboarder as Brendan Smart, 24, who was presumed dead after he was buried beneath a deep layer of snow at Hatcher Pass, about 55 miles north of Anchorage.

Authorities at the scene had not determined Tuesday night whether anything specific had triggered the avalanche, though rangers earlier in February had warned of hazardous conditions in the area and signs of recent slides were evident Tuesday.

Jill Fredston of the Alaska Mountain Safety Center surveyed the mountainside from a troopers helicopter about 5:35 p.m. and declared the area too dangerous for rescuers to set foot on the slope, according to authorities at the scene.

Park ranger Kym Miller said searchers planned to return early today and set off explosive charges to provoke an avalanche and thereby reduce the risk. Fredston recommended a bomblike device dropped from a helicopter.

Two friends who had been with Smart told authorities they watched as he disappeared into the snowslide. The friends, wearing snowshoes, searched with a probe and tried to pick up a signal with their avalanche beacons, authorities said. One left the mountain to call 911 for help and then went back up to continue searching, trooper Sgt. Craig Allen said at the scene.

"These guys definitely put the right rescue plan into operation," Fredston said.

She said they spent a significant amount of time looking for their friend before one of them left to call for help.

The slide occurred on the east side of the pass at the 1,000-foot level, above the Mother Lode lodge, according to troopers.

The area has been the site of previous avalanches, Wilkinson said.

"This was a kind of avalanche known as a terrain trap, where everything collapses down into a ravine," he said. "It's a place that's had avalanches come down and cover the road there."

Troopers, two Alaska State Parks rangers and the troopers' helicopter Helo I were joined by a member of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group, two dogs and handlers from Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs, and Fredston, according to troopers. Matanuska-Susitna Borough emergency services were also on hand.

Smart owned an avalanche beacon, but his friends were unsure whether he carried it with him Tuesday or whether he had turned it on, Miller said.

The Anchorage man is the latest in a string of avalanche victims this year.

A Feb. 12 slide partially buried a snowboarder and his dog on the same slope. Both survived.

Snowmobiler Richard Strick Jr. was caught in an avalanche near Pass Fork in the Alaska Range on Feb. 14. His body was recovered 10 days later.

Strick, 46, a longtime Iditarod Sled Dog Race volunteer from McGrath, was leading a line of snowmachines headed for Rainy Pass when the avalanche hit. The snowmachiners were blazing a path for the Iditarod.

Brian Mulvehill, 32, of Anchorage perished in an avalanche Feb. 8 on Flattop Mountain, near Anchorage, while snowshoeing with a friend.

On Jan. 3, 30-year-old skier Joel Schihl of Anchorage died in an avalanche on Raggedtop Mountain near Girdwood.

Daily News reporter Andrew Wellner can be reached at awellner@adn.com or 907-352-6710. Mat-Su editor Joseph Ditzler can be reached at jditzler@adn.com or 907-352-6715. The Associated Press contributed to this story.