Search halted due to avalanche danger, woman identified

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by Associated Press and KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on April 16, 2013 at 11:30 AM

SEATTLE  -- Rescuers have suspended the search for a hiker who has been missing since Saturday who was caught in an avalanche in the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle.

Search and Rescue members have been working with an avalanche expert to assess conditions, which remain too high for crews to enter the area.

King County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Cindi West said they will continue to monitor to conditions, but likely won't be able to resume the recovery operation until the weekend or early next week.

The medical examiner has identified the woman who died after being buried in five feet of snow as 55-year-old Joy Yu of Issaquah.

Yu was snowshoeing with her dog, Blue, after being caught up in a separate avalanche on Red Mountain on Saturday. A group of a dozen snowshoers also caught in the avalanche dug Yu out of the 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.

Mitch Hungate, 61, a dentist and seasoned athlete, 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 hikers said the last thing they heard was Hungate say "Oh no" before the avalanche.

The two friends emerged from the snow and called for help. They tried but weren't able to find Hungate.

Yu 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 avalanches this season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center said the avalanche danger in the area Monday is "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.

"We had a considerable danger," the meteorologist said Sunday.

Avalanches during the spring aren't rare, he said, noting that there's a secondary peak of mishaps during this time because the Northwest still sees winter-type storms. When that snow falls in the spring, it often warms up quickly, creating unstable conditions, he said.

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