CHELAN COUNTY, Wash. — Three people are suspected to have been buried and perished after an avalanche on Colchuck Peak near Leavenworth, the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) confirmed Tuesday.
Survivors told the Chelan County Sherriff's Office of Emergency Management that the slide happened around 1 p.m. on Sunday. Six people were climbing when the lead climber triggered the slide and four people fell.
Three other slides then sent snow and rocks on top of the climbers.
Three of the climbers are believed to have perished, but the trio has not been safely recovered as of yet. The fourth person was injured and evacuated by search and rescue teams.
The only reported information on the three missing travelers was one was a man in his 50s from Connecticut, one man in his 60s from New Jersey, and a woman in her 60s. The man who survived the fall was from New York and in his 50s.
The group was not traveling with avalanche beacons or outreach devices, as someone was forced to climb back down and notify rescuers of the incident.
Rescue efforts are ongoing, and Chelan County Volunteer Search and Rescue confirmed it is among the agencies involved in the response.
Avalanche danger was "moderate" above and near the tree line and "low" below the tree line in the east central Cascades for most of the day Sunday, according to the NWAC. However, danger was expected to increase throughout the day as a multi-day storm entered the region, and avalanche danger was forecasted to be "high" above tree line Sunday evening into Monday.
Doug McCall, who leads a local rescue volunteer group, assisted in Sunday's search for the victims. He warned against traveling backroads without the proper equipment.
"Everyone in the party should carry a beacon, shovel and probe," said McCall.
McCall said those three items are necessary if you're spending any time at all in Washington's backcountry right now— at a time when the Northwest Avalanche Center has been warning of moderate to high avalanche danger.
"Ideally, we bring everybody home alive, but we want to make sure we bring everybody home," said McCall.
Unfortunately, responders including McCall and nine other volunteers at Seattle Mountain Rescue were not able to find the three victims of the avalanche Sunday.
"A number of teams across the state were called in," said McCall.
Chelan County Emergency Management believes the hikers did not have an avalanche beacon. McCall said if they had had the beacon, probe, and shovel, the outcome may have possibly been different.
"That may have given them the opportunity to self-rescue so that people who were not injured or not involved in it, they may have been able to help try to save their fellow climbers," said McCall.
McCall said beacon devices should be worn close to the body, either on your outer thigh or strapped to your chest, away from any cell phones or radios. He said two beacons will beep as they get close to one another.
"And then if we were to get into an avalanche and one of us were buried, I could then turn this into a receive mode, and it's gonna send out a signal that I'd be able to pick up on my avalanche beacon," said McCall.
He said a shovel is just as important.
"I'd be ready to start digging you out," said McCall.
He said a 320 centimeter probe is also recommended.
You can purchase all three items at most outdoor recreation retailers.
"You'll have a way to probe down into the snow so when I locate you with my beacon-- you're buried-- then I'm gonna be looking for you so I know directly where to shovel," said McCall.
First responders are still working to notify next of kin, so they have not yet released the names of those involved.
McCall said various rescuers will likely continue searching for the victims throughout the rest of the week.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.