Sheriff IDs 3 climbers killed in Washington state avalanche

A sheriff's office in Washington state has released the identities of three climbers killed in an avalanche on a remote, jagged peak in the Cascade Mountains

ByGENE JOHNSON Associated Press
February 22, 2023, 8:17 PM

SEATTLE -- A sheriff’s office in Washington state on Wednesday released the identities of three climbers killed in an avalanche on a remote, jagged peak in the Cascade Mountains, saying they were members of a climbing club based in New York.

The victims were Seong Cho, a 54-year-old male Korean citizen from West Hartford, Connecticut; Jeannie Lee, a 60-year-old woman from Bayside, New York; and Yun Park, a 66-year-old man from Palisades Park, New Jersey, the Chelan County Sheriff's Office said.

They were killed Sunday as they ascended a steep, snow-packed gulley on the 8,705-foot (2,653-meter) Colchuck Peak, about 70 miles (115 kilometers) east of Seattle. A fourth member of their party was also caught up in the slide, but suffered only minor injuries and was able to verify that the three had died before additional avalanches covered at least two of the bodies.

The avalanche was the the deadliest in the U.S. since four backcountry skiers were killed in an avalanche in Utah two years ago.

Strong winds, heavy snow and high avalanche danger have prevented any attempt to retrieve the bodies. A pair of avalanche experts headed to the scene Wednesday to evaluate whether conditions might permit a recovery effort later this week, but they had not yet returned by Wednesday afternoon, said sheriff's Sgt. Jason Reinfeld.

Reinfeld said Wednesday the group was part of a New York-based climbing club, but he had no further information about it.

Six members of the group were ascending the gulley, called a couloir, early Sunday afternoon when the lead climber triggered the avalanche, the sheriff's office said. Four of the climbers were caught and swept about 500 feet (150 meters) down.

A seventh member of the group, one who remained at base camp rather than participate in Sunday’s climb, hiked out to get help — an arduous overnight journey that included a descent of about 4,000 vertical feet (1,220 meters) over 8 miles (nearly 13 kilometers). He was able to contact the sheriff’s office by 8 a.m. Monday to relay what had happened, Reinfeld said.

A mountain rescue team reached the base camp early that afternoon but decided against venturing above the lake due to the avalanche risk.

Search teams declined to even attempt to reach the area on Tuesday amid a heavy snowstorm and wind gusts of up to 60 mph (96 kph).