Anchorage man dies in Hatcher Pass avalanche

Update, 8 a.m. Sunday: Alaska State Troopers have identified the victim of Saturday's avalanche in Hatcher Pass as 25-year-old Warren Carlyle of Anchorage. His next of kin was notified.

Original Story: One person died in an avalanche in Hatcher Pass Saturday afternoon, marking the area's second avalanche death this month, Alaska State Troopers said.

Troopers learned of the avalanche near Summit Lake around 2:16 p.m., said Megan Peters, troopers spokeswoman.

"The person caught in it was recovered deceased," Peters wrote in an email. She didn't have further details and said more information would be released once the person's family members were contacted.

Jed Workman, director of the Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center, said the victim and another person had been snowshoeing. One of them had a snowboard and started riding it down, which triggered the avalanche, Workman said. Neither one had an avalanche beacon, he said.

The avalanche happened on Skyscraper Mountain at about 4,200 feet, according to Workman, and the victim was buried under 7 1/2 feet of snow.

Oscar Whaley, 33, and several friends were snowmachining in Hatcher Pass when they heard about the avalanche, which Whaley said happened on a steep mountain face. He said two other snowmachiners saw what happened and one of them immediately stopped and ran up to the scene.


The other snowmachiner stayed to find help and flagged down Whaley's group, Whaley said. He said he and his friends were all equipped with avalanche rescue equipment: beacons, shovels and probes.

At the avalanche site, a half-dozen people started digging, a number that eventually swelled to about 15 or 20, Whaley said.

"We all helped, we all switched out," Whaley said. "When people were tired of digging, (someone else) rotated in."

After about an hour and 15 minutes, the rescuers pulled out the victim -- a young man, Whaley said. He said they cut off a backpack and also found snowshoes, a snowboard and a helmet.

The rescuers then started performing CPR and chest compressions, Whaley said.

"There was a lot of people that really got together," Whaley said. "It was everyone that did it for this guy."

In a phone interview, Lisa Behrens, deputy director of EMS for the Mat-Su Department of Emergency Services, said a 911 call about the avalanche came in shortly after 2 p.m. She said EMS crews along with Palmer fire and rescue were dispatched to the parking lot near Hatcher Pass Lodge.

She said the plan was to head up the mountain on snowmachines to rescue the person who had been caught in the avalanche. But by the time crews arrived, a snowmachine was already bringing the victim down to the parking lot, Behrens said.

She confirmed CPR was in progress when the victim arrived, and said it continued for more than 45 minutes in the ambulance.

"Every possible effort was made to resuscitate the patient," Behrens said.

Workman said the avalanche hazard in the area was "moderate," the second-lowest of five hazard levels. But he also emphasized that although the probability of triggering an avalanche was relatively low, the consequences would be drastic due to the snow conditions.

"It's a little bit like Russian roulette," Workman said.

This was the second fatal avalanche in Hatcher Pass this month, and the third this winter. In early January, snowmachiner Dashiell Erickson died when he was caught in an avalanche near Craggy Creek.

An avalanche is also believed to have killed Wasilla skier Liam Walsh, who disappeared while backcountry skiing in Hatcher Pass in November.

Correction: This article originally stated the avalanche occurred on the Willow side of Hatcher Pass. It occurred on the Palmer side. It also erroneously stated another fatal avalanche took place "last week"; it actually took place on Jan. 2.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.