Experts scour fatal avalanche scene in Chugach State Park

Members of Alaska Mountain Rescue Group at the avalanche site in Chugach State Park
Members of Alaska Mountain Rescue Group at the avalanche site in Chugach State Park(Alaska Mountain Rescue)
Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 6:25 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Experts from the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Center were out for a second day Thursday at the scene of a fatal avalanche in Chugach State Park. Tuesday’s slide took the lives of 54-year-old Tom Devine of Chugiak and his companions, 43-year-old Matthew Nyman of Colorado and 50-year-old Ed Watson of Florida.

Alaska State Troopers Spokesman Austin McDaniel said the men left from a trail by Mirror Lake to climb Bear Mountain Tuesday morning.

“The hikers told their family member they were going to be back in the parking area by 5 p.m. Tuesday evening. They didn’t show up,” said McDaniel. “That is what caused them to call the troopers, report them overdue.”

Troopers waited till daylight Wednesday morning to start the search and were joined by members of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group. The men’s bodies were discovered before noon in an area called the Northwest Couloir, a steep, narrow gully that runs from the top of the mountain to the valley below.

“They’d been climbing up a more technical area, not the typical trail that a lot of people use to get up onto Bear Mountain,” said McDaniel. “They were using a more technical climb and during that technical route, that is kind of off the beaten track, is where the avalanche occurred.”

McDaniel said the men were partially buried in avalanche debris and covered with freshly fallen snow. Rescuers didn’t find personal locator beacons or avalanche beacons but said the men did have other types of climbing gear.

“When rescuers got up to the avalanche site they saw that the climbers were wearing harnesses. They weren’t roped together in any way, but they definitely had equipment that showed that they were probably not the beginner hikers or climbers.”

McDaniel said Devine, who lived in the area, had experience in the mountains. He said troopers are still learning more about the other men who were with him as well as the conditions that led to the avalanche.

Friday, a preliminary report compiled by the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group with assistance from the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Center stated, “Confidence is high that this was a shallow wind slab avalanche that was triggered by the climbers as they approached the top of the climb.”

However, according to the report, the possibility that it was a natural wind slab avalanche due to active wind loading on the day of the accident cannot be ruled out.

“Without survivors or witnesses, it is impossible to piece together the full picture of the events,” the report states. “Fatal avalanche accidents are tragic and touch communities far and wide. Condolences to the families and friends of the deceased climbers.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information on the preliminary report released Friday.

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