ARTICLE: Mt. Saint Helens, Avalanche, Recovery, April 26-29, 1975.
A party of 29 from the University of Puget Sound climbing course under the leadership of MRC member Harmon Jones ascended to the place where they planned to have their annual snow practice. They established camp in the upper west edge of the 'Sugar Bowl', digging their tents in well and establishing snow caves. At 8:30 PM in the failing light, most members were in their sleeping bags, but some were out when the avalanche struck. The winds were high, and heavy snow had been accumulating for sometime in areas of deposition. The avalanche ran for at least 4,000 feet in distance down the bowl. Members of the party whose camps had not been struck, immediately started frantically locating other survivors, and some were sent to adjacent climbing party camps for additional help. During the next hours a private party of 10 from Seattle-Tacoma Under the leadership of Tacoma MRU member Stan Engle and a party of 6 from the Skagit Alpine Club under the leadership of Bellingham MRC member Lynn Dayton helped the survivors off the mountain and notified the Sheriff and Forest Service personnel. The bodies of Richard Pfeffer, 18, Nina Engebretsen, 18, and Karen Moniot, 24, were located, bagged, transported to an avalanche-free area, and wanded for future recovery. Two injured members of the party, Bryan O'Leary and Randy McClaflin, were helped or carried to the road-end and transported to a Longview hospital by ambulance. Two other members of the party, Philip Burdick, 30, and Erick Spurrell, 22, were not found.
By 10:30 PM, Tacoma MRU, Central Washington MRC, Olympia MR, and Seattle MRC had been notified and call-outs were underway. Paul Williams and George Sainsbury were located in Portland and arrived at the scene in time to help with the final evacuation of the injured, de-brief Harmon Jones in detail, who supplied a sketch map of the positions of the tents and the last known locations of Burdick and Spurrell. The Mountain Rescue and Safety Council of Oregon had been contacted but could give no aid, as they were committed to the body recoveries of an avalanche victim on Mt. Hood and a Boy Scout near Multnomah Falls. By dawn 53 mountain rescue personnel were at the scene, but the weather was so bad that teams could not progress beyond Engle's camp at the base of the Dog's Head. It was decided to return home, keen in touch with the weather bureau, and continue the search and recovery as soon as the winds abated.
On April 28th, in improved but still very marginal weather, a teamof 9 from Tacoma MRU was able to reach the three previously located victims and bring them down. By late afternoon the forecast was good, and on the 29th, 39 mountain rescue members and dog search handlers were flown in by a Huey provided by Ft. Lewis. Burdick and Spurrell were located in their tent by probing, and flown out.
The University of Puget Sound established a blue-ribbon committee of experienced climbers, rescue specialists, and avalanche experts to review the entire climbing program and investigate the accident. On Sept. 1st the University announced that the leadership of the party had been completely exonerated and the program would continue. To quote from the report - "Only a handful of very experienced avalanche experts would have recognized the potential of such an avalanche there at that time."
FAMILY NOTE: Anna was a half sibling through her father; Kris (formerly Engebretsen) Russell was a half-brother. Her full siblings are Carla and Fritz Engebretsen of New Jersey.
Info provided by Shelley Germeaux.
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