LEAVENWORTH, Washington -- Three climbers have been killed in an avalanche after the lead climber accidentally triggered it while attempting to reach the peak of an 8,705 foot mountain over the weekend.
The incident occurred on Sunday when a group of six climbers -- all from the East Coast -- were attempting to climb Colchuck Peak which sits at the south end of Colchuck Lake, approximately 8 miles south of Leavenworth, Washington, in the Pacific Northwest.
"The lead climber triggered an avalanche while attempting to climb the Northeast Couloir of Colchuck Peak," officials from the Chelan County Sheriff's Office in a statement following the tragedy.
Four of the climbers were swept approximately 500 feet down the mountain during the avalanche that ended up killing three of them. The fourth climber, a 56-year-old man from New York, sustained non-life-threatening injuries and was able to hike back to base camp with the two remaining survivors, a 50-year-old man from New York and a 36-year-old man from New Jersey.
When they finally arrived at camp, they sent a seventh member who did not venture out climbing for the day -- a 53-year-old Maryland man -- to go get help.
The three climbers that died as a result of trauma sustained in the fall were a 60-year-old female from New York, a 66-year-old male from New Jersey and a 53-year-old male from Connecticut, authorities confirmed. None of the identities of those involved in the incident have been released.
"Sheriff Mike Morrison reports on February 20th, 2023, deputies were contacted at the CCSO Leavenworth substation about an avalanche that occurred near Colchuck Lake the previous day," read the statement from Chelan County Sheriff's Office in the aftermath of the avalanche. "A total of 22 rescuers responded to the trailhead to assist with this effort. They were from Chelan County Mounty Rescue, Chelan County Volunteer Search and Rescue and ORV unit, Seattle Mountain Rescue, Tacoma Mountain Rescue, and Yakima Mountain Rescue."
Once officials reached the base camp at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Monday, they determined that, due to the avalanche conditions, it was too dangerous to continue their recovery mission of the three deceased climbers and made the decision to return with the surviving climbers back to the trailhead, authorities said.
As of Wednesday, rescuers have still not been able to return to the scene due to the continuing hazardous conditions and officials from the Chelan County Sheriff's Office say they are continuing to work with the Northwest Avalanche Center to assist in a recover plan for the bodies of the three climbers.
In total, nine people have died this winter in avalanches across the United States, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center -- four in Colorado in three separate instances, one in Montana, one in Nevada and now three in Washington following this event.
Last winter, 17 deaths from avalanches were reported in the United States with no single incident killing more than two people making this the largest avalanche death toll since an avalanche at Wilson Glade in Mill Creek Canyon, Utah, killed four people on Feb. 6, 2021, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.