A mountain climber accidentally triggered an avalanche in central Washington, killing three people on the expedition, authorities said Tuesday.
The victims were among six “backcountry travelers” on Colchuck Peak, which is near the Cascade Mountains village of Leavenworth about 120 miles east of downtown Seattle, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center.
The accident happened about 1 p.m. Sunday at 7,600 feet above sea level, Chelan County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jason Reinfeld said.
“It sounds like the lead climber actually [caused the avalanche] by planting his ice ax [and he] triggered a slab that they were on to slide,” Reinfeld said. “The ice ax created a crack that allowed the slab to slide.”
Reinfeld said that the incident was an accident and that the lead climber was not to be blamed.
“That is something that happens,” he said. “You can mitigate those risks by knowing avalanche conditions and being aware of what could trigger it and how hazardous conditions are.”
The three victims slid about 500 feet and most likely “died from trauma,” not from being buried under snow, Reinfeld added.
The other survivors returned to Leavenworth, he said. Conditions Tuesday were too dangerous to launch a recovery effort for the three victims.
Winds were blowing 30 mph to 40 mph with gusts up to 60 mph Tuesday.
Loved ones of the three victims were still being contacted Tuesday. They are a man, 53, from Connecticut; a woman, 60, from New York state; and another man, 66, from New Jersey.