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2 men rescued and 1 believed dead after avalanche hits Idaho back country

Jan 11, 2024, 10:36 PM | Updated: Jan 12, 2024, 11:42 am

MULLAN, Idaho (AP) — Two men were rescued after being caught in an avalanche in the Idaho backcountry, while a third man was believed to be dead, authorities said.

A rescue effort began shortly before 3 p.m. Thursday when law enforcement received a GPS alert of a possible fatality in an avalanche near Stevens Peak close to the Montana border, the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement posted on social media.

A search and rescue effort began with assistance from the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Air Force.

Authorities established communications using a GPS texting device with two men caught in the avalanche. Following a search of the area, the pair were located and transported for medical care, the sheriff’s office said. One of the men had a broken arm, KREM-TV reported.

A discussion with the men led authorities to believe a third man had died at the avalanche site, the sheriff’s office said.

Authorities resumed looking for the deceased man on Friday in below-zero temperatures.

The identities of the three men were not immediately released.

Authorities did not say what the three people were doing in the area, which is several miles southwest of the Lookout Peak ski area and more than 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Missoula, Montana.

The area had been under an avalanche danger warning for several days because of snowfall and blowing winds that have created unstable conditions on high, steep slopes.

The Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center warned that avalanches triggered by human activity “remain likely” on steeper terrain.

Another avalanche in central Idaho trapped two vehicles on Highway 21 Thursday night, along a notorious stretch of road dubbed “avalanche alley.”

Boise County Sheriff Scott Turner said the people inside were unharmed, and they managed to climb out their vehicle windows and use a cellphone to text 911. The region has limited cellular service, which can make it tough to get help.

“We encourage people that travel the backcountry to use some of the other technology, like the satellite Garmin devices,” he said.

The winter was unusually dry until this week, which has led to a lot of pent-up demand from winter recreationists, Turner said. But the conditions are dangerous for recreationists and rescuers, he said.

“We had some snowmobilers stuck earlier Thursday, and the rescue personnel really had a hard time getting them out because there were avalanches coming down across the trail and the road,” Turner said. Still, everyone made it home safely, he said.

“We’re encouraging everyone to stay in the lower areas this weekend,” he said.

The Idaho avalanches came a day after the first U.S. avalanche death of the season was reported in California. An avalanche roared through a section of expert trails at the Palisades Tahoe ski resort near Lake Tahoe on Wednesday morning, trapping four people and killing one.

A second avalanche struck the same area near Lake Tahoe on Thursday. But there were no reported casualties.

Last February, three members of a mountain climbing club from New York perished in an avalanche on a remote peak in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state.

Three climbers in Alaska’s Denali National Park died last May in two separate incidents the same day. One triggered an avalanche while skiing in the park’s backcountry, and two others were swept away as they prepared to climb a peak known as Moose’s Tooth. Their bodies were never found.

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2 men rescued and 1 believed dead after avalanche hits Idaho back country