The final report on the February avalanche on Colchuck Peak that killed three climbers was issued las week by the Northwest Avalanche Center.  The incident is considered the deadliest in North America this winter.

The reports authors said the fatal avalanche was relatively small but the victims were swept down a steep narrow choke of exposed rocks, cliffs and short cliffs that was the likely cause of the fatal injuries they suffered.  The investigators said weather conditions in the days preceding the accident played a factor as well.

The three climbers who died were identified as;

  • Seong Cho, a 54-year-old male Korean National residing in West Hartford Connecticut
  • Jeannie Lee, a 60-year-old female from Bayside New York
  • Yun Park, a 66-year-old male from Palisades Park New Jersey

The accident happened on Sunday, February 19th, as the six climbers involved  attempted an ascent of the Northeast Couloir route on Colchuck Peak. The group was using crampons but no ropes. The report indicates the lead climber triggered a slab avalanche with his ice axe around 1:15pm that swept four members of the team approximately 1,000 vertical feet.

All four suffered traumatic injuries and three died. Two remaining climbers who were able to shelter behind large rocks and boulders when the slide hit but were able to rescue just one of the three caught in the avalanche.

The Chelan County Sheriff’s Office wasn't notified of the accident until Monday morning, February 20th.  Rescuers met the survivors at Colchuck Lake and assisted the injured climber to the trailhead for a transport to a hospital.

Friday February 24th, the weather cleared enough to allow a recovery effort by Chelan County Sheriff's Office, Chelan County Mountain Rescue and Snohomish County Helicopter Rescue to remove the body of Seong Cho.  Recovery of the two remaining victim's bodies has been hampered by the ongoing avalanche hazard and continued snowfall in the area.  A recovery effort will resume when avalanche conditions permit.

Photo credit: Northwest Avalanche Center
Photo credit: Northwest Avalanche Center

The injured climber suffered two injured knees and an ankle injury.  Seong Cho, the victim who's body was recovered died of traumatic injuries according to the medical examiner's report. The findings conclude the other victims likely also died from traumatic injuries suffered in the 1,000 foot descent over rocks and outcroppings rather than asphyxia buried under snow.

The report also indicated the survivor was wearing a helmet, the three who died were not wearing helmets.  The report was not clear as to whether helmets would have played a factor in this accident given the nature of their other injuries.

The team had no communication devices.  The report said the two climbers who sheltered behind a boulder when the avalanche hit could not see the members of their party and climbed higher to find them before retreating to find them below.  The lack of radios prevented a faster response in several ways according to investigators.

The climbing team was not carrying avalanche rescue gear like transceivers to locate climbers buried in snow.  The report concluded that type of equipment would not have likely saved lives in the accident given the nature of the fatal injuries.

Finally, the report said the climbers experience ranged from novice to intermediate with one climber considered advanced.  None had any avalanche training.  The party of six climbers on the peak at the time of the accident were among a group of 11 climbers from various locations around the country and many were considered unfamiliar with local mountains and snowpack conditions.

Read the full Northwest Avalanche Report here

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