Washington searchers wait to seek avalanche victim

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SEATTLE (AP) — Dangerous conditions Monday prevented rescuers from searching for a hiker who was caught in an avalanche over the weekend in the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle.

The hiker’s wife, Marilynn Hungate, identified him to KING-TV as Mitch Hungate, 61, a dentist and seasoned athlete.

He was with two other companions Saturday afternoon when an avalanche swept them more than 1,200 feet down Granite Mountain, a 5,600-foot peak about 45 miles east of Seattle. The two friends emerged from the snow and called for help. They tried but weren’t able to find Hungate.

“The longer the time goes on, the less chance of survival,” said Sgt. Cindi West with the King County Sheriff’s Office.

Experts say the potential for avalanches still looks dangerous, West said Monday night, adding it could be a few days before the search can resume.

Beverly Walker, office manager at Mitch Hungate’s dental office in Renton, Wash., said he loved competing in Ironman triathlons.

Marilynn Hungate, who was on the mountain waiting for news, told the television station: “I really didn’t want to leave him. I want to be with him until he can be here with us.”

Also Monday, the King County Medical Examiner’s Office identified a woman who had been killed Saturday while snowshoeing with her dog as Joy Yu, 55. The examiner’s report said Yu, who was caught on Red Mountain in a separate avalanche, suffocated under the snow.

A group of a dozen snowshoers who were also caught up in the avalanche dug the Yu out of five feet of snow and tried to keep her warm. It took rescuers hours to carry her on a sled down the mountain, where she was pronounced dead.

Hikers found the woman’s dog, named Blue, on Sunday. The animal is now back with Yu’s relatives, West said.

It was the first avalanche fatality reported in Washington this season, according to the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center in Seattle. Nationwide, 16 others have died in avalanches this season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center said the avalanche danger in the area Monday was “considerable” above 4,000 feet.

Kenny Kramer, director of Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center, said 20 to 30 inches of snow fell over the weekend. All that new snow was weakly attached to the old snow crust, making it more unstable, Kramer said.

Avalanches during the spring aren’t rare, he said, noting that there’s a secondary peak of landslides during this time because the Northwest still sees heavy storms, which can include snow. When that snow falls in the spring, it often warms up quickly, creating unstable conditions, he said.

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