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The latest avalanche victim was only 13

Mukilteo girl's body recovered
By Jackson Holtz and Scott Pesznecker, Herald Writers
Published: Saturday, January 5, 2008

VERLOT -- A Mukilteo girl's body was brought down the mountain early Saturday morning, as search and rescue workers recovered the latest victim of one of the deadliest avalanche seasons in state history.

The girl, 13, was hiking with a man and six other youngsters between 12 and 16 years old. They are all from the Mukilteo area and were hiking in Mount Pilchuck's Lake 22 area Friday.

The group of family and friends is believed to have been hit by an avalanche that began high above them, perhaps 500 feet, which started when wetter, heavier snow caused a cornice failure, Snohomish County sheriff's spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said.

The avalanche funneled down the gully where the group was walking and overtook several of them, Hover said.

A boy managed to dig himself free, and two girls were rescued by others in the group who dug them out with poles. Members of the group spent about an hour trying to find the third girl and hiked out to reach help.

They called 911 at 4:45 p.m. from the Verlot ranger station, about two miles west on the Mountain Loop Highway.

The avalanche hit them about 2:30 p.m., after they'd already decided to return to the trailhead because of worsening weather. They were on the trail, between the 2,300 and 2,500 foot level, Hover said.

Aid crews from the Robe Valley Fire Department treated three of the children at the scene for scrapes and bruises. No one needed hospitalization, Hover said.

Two dozen members of the Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue team and Everett Mountain Rescue members found the girl’s body shortly before 10 p.m. under about five feet of snow in the general area of the avalanche.

The victim's family has been notified. Her name has not been released.

Two other people from Snohomish County are among the eight people who already have died this season in avalanches in Washington.

An Everett woman, 43, died Tuesday when her snowmobiling party was engulfed in a snow slide. A Brier man, 22, died before Christmas on Mount Rainier while snowshoeing.

December storms have created a dangerously unstable snowpack in the mountains, experts said.

Rising and falling freezing levels, windstorms and unusually deep snow accumulations have set up perfect conditions for avalanches.

Weather, wind and people walking or riding snowmobiles on the snow can trigger a deadly slide.

Powdery snow can quickly turn into heavy, concrete-like ice under the tremendous force of an avalanche, said Kenny Kramer, an avalanche meteorologist with the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center.

Most people buried in an avalanche die of asphyxiation within 30 minutes, Kramer said.

The Lake 22 trailhead sits at 1,000 feet and the trail ends at the mountain lake at about 2,500 feet. Snow clings to the high, sheer cliffs above the lake year round.

On Friday, snow likely was piled high from recent storms.

A strong winter storm was forecast to move through the region during the weekend, said Dana Felton, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Seattle.

Heavy rain, high winds and lower temperatures were forecast for the Cascade foothills, he said. Snow levels were forecast at 3,000 feet, but were only expected to drop during the day Saturday. Snow in the lowlands is predicted beginning Sunday.





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