Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2002-02-22
Submitted By: WWAN via WDOT
Place: HIGHWAY 2, West of Stevens Pass Ski Area
State: WA
Country: USA
Summary: 1 automobile struck, carried, damaged, and partially buried

***MEDIA REPORTS***

Saturday, February 23, 2002 - 12:27 a.m. Pacific

Avalanche at Stevens Pass drags car

down hillside; all inside OK

By Mike Carter and Gina Kim

Seattle Times staff reporters

The avalanche chute dubbed Old

Faithful No. 6 let loose a mountain of

wet snow yesterday that roared

down a hillside below Stevens Pass,

striking a car on Highway 2 and

swept it 150 feet down a steep

embankment, where it came to rest

upside down.

No one was seriously injured in the

freak accident, which blew out the

windows of the station wagon, but

the four passengers surely got an

unforgettable ride over steep

mountain terrain, according to the

State Patrol.

The four passengers remained

inside their car for about 45 minutes

until 10 members of the Stevens

Pass ski patrol were able to rescue

them, said Jeff Adamson, spokesman for the state Department of

Transportation.

The victims, all of Whatcom County, were identified as Michael

Kittleson, 43, and his wife, Denise, 39, who was driving the car,

both of Everson. The passengers were Anthony Seman, 39, of

Bellingham, and Heather Mordhorst, 33, of Ferndale.

A church group happened upon the avalanche within minutes and

some of its members began searching to see if anyone was

injured. Brian Arwine found the car part way down the slide path.

"The windows were all blown out, and the snow was packed in

pretty good," said Arwine, 38, of Monroe. "The car was in really bad

shape. Two of the people came out pretty easy, they weren't

pinned, but the other two were trapped, and it took quite a bit an

effort to get them out."

Arwine and several others who had scrambled down the slope

were able to speak with the four people inside the crumpled station

wagon.

"They had some visible injuries, scrapes and bruises, but they

seemed to be handling it pretty well," he said.

Three of the passengers hiked out, and one woman was taken out

on a stretcher, Trooper D.C. Putnam said.

They were taken to Valley General Hospital in Monroe, where they

were a little banged up but "walking, talking, alive," said nursing

supervisor Chris Horton. All four were treated for minor injuries and

were to be released last night.

Putnam said the avalanche, which burst across the road at about

3:30 p.m., was between six and 12 feet deep. He estimated it

measured 150 yards across.

"You have a wall of mountain that is facing the prevailing wind, and

there are valleys there that just collect snow," he said. "They're

called Old Faithful by the Department of Transportation because

they can be pretty depended upon to dump snow on the roadway

without a whole lot of warning."

In fact, transportation crews shut down an 8-mile section of the

highway west from the summit from 7 a.m. until noon yesterday to

do avalanche work, said Adamson, state transportation

spokesman. Although they set charges along chutes known for

avalanche activity, they did not work on Old Faithful No. 6.

"It's typically not a player. It only releases when the wind conditions

are just right, and in this particular case, with the amount of rain and

the warm temperatures that we experienced, it released itself,"

Adamson said.

"We've got about 50 years of track history, but these mountains are

always a surprise."

The ski patrol, with an avalanche dog, remained in the area after

rescuing the four people to search for others who might have gotten

swept away in the slide, but it came up empty. Snowboarders are

known to go out of Stevens Pass' ski boundaries to cruise down the

avalanche chutes before they reach the road and hitchhike back up

to the summit, a practice that is strongly discouraged, Adamson

said.

Highway 2 was cleared and reopened to traffic last night.

Mike Carter can be reached at 206-464-3706 or

mcarter@seattletimes.com. Gina Kim can be reached at

206-464-2761 or gkim@seattletimes.com.