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1 dead, 1 missing in avalanches near Washington's Snoqualmie Pass

April 15, 2013|By Kim Murphy

SEATTLE — It was a deadly weekend in Washington’s Cascade mountains, where a pair of avalanches in popular hiking areas near Snoqualmie Pass left one woman dead and another man missing. Rescuers were unable to resume the search Monday in what one official called “horrible” conditions.

“It was just coming down. It was a heavy, heavy snowfall,” said King County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Cindi West, who said the search for the missing hiker, 51-year-old dentist Mitch Hungate, could get underway again Tuesday or Wednesday when weather improves.

Spring often brings avalanches in the snowy Cascades. The two incidents over the weekend occurred in well-traveled spots not far from Interstate 90 that were hit with a dump of new snow on top of compacted, icy snow — a recipe for danger.

Hungate’s wife and sister camped on the mountain over the weekend awaiting news.

“I really didn’t want to leave him. I want to be with him until he can be here with us,” his wife, Marilynn Hungate, told KING 5 news.

“I feel him here,” said his sister, Cheryl Hungate. “Praying for a miracle.”

Hungate, a resident of Renton, Wash.,  was hiking with two companions toward the summit of Granite Mountain on Saturday when the snow began moving underneath them, and the trio was swept 1,200 feet down the mountain in the space of a minute.

Not long after, a second avalanche a few miles away near Red Mountain caught a group of about a dozen snowshoers. Most were able to get themselves out of it — though one of them, Chris Soun, had to be dug out by friends.

“I thought I was dying,” Soun later told KOMO News. “I couldn't see anything.”

Then the group came across a border collie mix they had earlier seen  and realized its owner was missing.

After searching for 45 minutes, they found the woman buried face-down in five feet of snow.  She was not moving, and was “somewhat conscious,” King County sheriff’s officials said.

A search-and-rescue team was able to reach the group in about two hours, loaded the woman onto a sled and carried her out in blizzard-like conditions. “It took them probably four hours to get her down the mountain, the conditions were so bad, and by the time they reached it, she had passed,” West told the Los Angeles Times.

The woman’s identity was to be released Monday afternoon.

Her border collie disappeared as the rescue got underway, and after search-and-rescue authorities put out an alert on the missing dog, some hikers heard the howling of a dog on a nearby peak.

“They heard it from another peak. It was howling and barking and crying,” West said. “They hiked down their mountain and up the other one and found this dog that belonged to the victim. He apparently had some little shelter area that he had dug out near a tree, and he was just crying.”

The hikers lured the dog to them with some food, and brought it down the mountain, she said. “It just breaks my heart.”

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