Weather halts search for missing skier feared dead near Alpental

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by Glenn Farley, Natalie Swaby, KING 5 News staff

KING5.com

Posted on February 3, 2011 at 7:21 AM

Updated Thursday, Feb 3 at 11:53 PM

Missing skier

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SNOQUALMIE PASS, Wash. -- Search efforts to locate the body of a missing back country skiier in Washington state's Red Mountain area have been called off Thursday due to bad weather.  

The King County Sheriff's office says conditions are simply too dangerous to search for the body of 41-year-old Monika Johnson.

Authorities believe Johnson was appearantly killed when a cornice beneath her broke, causing her to fall over 1,500 feet and bury her under snow. The search area is described as the size of a football field.

"It appears she took off her skies and backpack, and walked onto a cornice to get a better look and it broke away...rode it down and is likely buried," said King County Sheriff's Department spokesman John Urquhart who says the operation is now a recovery mission.   

Johnson went back country skiing alone on Tuesday.  When she failed to show up to work, employers notified her friends,and those friends notified authorities.  

A backpack and glove were found early Wednesday afternoon. Her car was found in the Summit at Snoqualmie parking lot near I-90.

On Wednesday, the sheriff's department search and rescue helicopter spotted ski gear and a backpack, just above what what appeared to be fresh snow slide activity off the backside of Red Mountain. Another group of searchers found more clothing and more debris.

This morning the helicopter was back over Snoqualmie pass, but icing conditions forced it to leave the area. 

A team of 15-20 searchers spent the night on the mountain trying to recover the body.  One searcher described the area as extremely wet and treacherous. Temperatures are hoving around freezing, and cars in the parking lot are coated with ice. 

Another 15 rescuers hiked up this morning but were turned around about 11am.  Urquhart says all are being brought doown. He adds its unlikely the recovery mission will start up again before the weekend, as weather conditions Friday are expected to be bad as well.

"We have the best searchers in the state here and we may not even put them in the field...that's how dangerous it is," said Deputy Ed Christian, King County Search and Rescue. "We haven't had the opportunity to search with probes due to the conditions and lack of light. She could be under the snow. She could have gone down further. Until we get enough light we don't know where she's at."

Editor's note:  An earlier version of this report indicated that Johnson was part of a mountain rescue group. The chairman of the Washington Mountain Rescue Association says that is not true. We apologize for the error.

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