|Avalanche kills 3 climbers - Redmond officer and city employee among those killed |
by Jeff Switzer, Bellevue Journal Reporter
REDMOND -- Lt. John Miner was an avid mountain climber, a gruff 30-year veteran of the Redmond, Wash. Police Department, who made homemade pies from scratch for officers on their birthdays.
Russ Howard was a 42-year-old father of four, a Redmond traffic signal expert and sportsman.
The two died Thursday in an avalanche in Banff, Alberta, Canada, where they were climbing frozen waterfalls at Midnight Rambler. Pierce County Sheriff's Deputy James Andrues, 66, was the third member of the climb team and also died.
``These were experienced climbers,'' said Gus Bush, Tacoma Mountain Rescue Unit operations chairman. ``You can prepare against it and take all kinds of safety measures, but there's always that chance, especially when you're climbing ice.''
Miner and Howard were known for caution at work and in climbing, and were accomplished mountaineers who climbed Mount Rainier and other area peaks several times.
``He told me `if you know what you're doing and abide by the rules, it's safer than driving on the freeway,''' said Howard's supervisor, Jim Cooper. ``He was very careful, and so was John Miner. They don't get any more careful than those two.''
Miner, 53, climbed peaks in Peru and the Himalayas and served on the Pierce County Mountain Search and Rescue.
He was known as a standout character around town whose stern appearance was a thin cover for his sensitive side.
A testament to his safe ways, Miner kept three days of emergency supplies under his desk and in his car, Holland said.
``He would design disasters and show us how to get through them,'' Redmond police spokeswoman Stacey Holland said. ``It's so hard for everyone to accept. John was the ultimate survivor. If anyone would come out alive and kicking, it would be him.
``It's a huge, huge loss for our department.''
Miner trained hard to support his passion for climbing, Holland said, going on walks with a backpack full of bricks. He was as fit as a 35-year-old, she said.
When someone suggested he take a cruise instead, he'd say ``cruises were for seniors, and he wasn't a senior,'' Holland said.
And then there were the pies. Lime, strawberry, it didn't matter -- if it was your birthday, Miner took your order. Holland got a boysenberry cream pie with brown granola crust.
Miner grew up in Burien and lived in Kenmore. He wasn't married and had no children. He is survived by his brother and parents.
Beginning in 1974, he worked as an officer and detective and was the city's first K-9 officer with his partner Brando. In 1985 he was made sergeant, and in 1992 he was promoted to lieutenant in 1992 and served in two divisions.
Howard, a lead traffic signal technician in the city's maintenance operations center, was a meticulous person with the cleanest desk in the department, Cooper said. His job was to swiftly fix signal problems to keep traffic moving smoothly, Cooper said.
Howard grew up in Spokane, graduated from the University of Washington with a communications degree, and had previous jobs with the city of Lynnwood and Econolite, the firm that designs traffic signal controllers. He had worked for Redmond for about two years.
He was a big family man, and is survived by his wife, two young daughters and two teenage sons, Cooper said.
``We will miss him greatly, and are thinking and praying for his wife and family,'' said Bill Campbell, acting Public Works Director.
Andrues helped search for Dan Witkowski, a 25-year-old Ellensburg skier lost for five days last month near Alpental Ski Area, Bush said. Witkowski survived and was in satisfactory condition after undergoing surgery Friday to amputate his feet and ankles.
The three climbers were part of two parties on Mount Wilson north of Lake Louise when the avalanche apparently knocked them off their climbing route, Parks Canada spokeswoman Shelley Humphries said.
The search began around 9:30 p.m. Thursday when climbers in the second party reported their friends overdue at a meeting point.
Two bodies were found Thursday; the third was located Friday morning after a dozen park wardens, using dogs and probes, combed the avalanche debris at the bottom of an ice waterfall where the trio had been climbing.
The men were not wearing avalanche beacons, Canadian authorities said.
Mount Wilson, a popular spot for ice climbers, rises 10,695 feet overlooking Bow Pass. It has high cliffs that stretch for nearly 7 miles.
The area was at considerable risk for avalanches in the past two days from prolonged sun exposure on the south slopes of the mountain.
Last year was the worst year for avalanche deaths in Canada. The Canadian Avalanche Association says 29 people died, including 19 skiers and nine snowmobilers.
Other Redmond tragedies
Twin tragedies have hit Redmond City Hall before. Two Redmond city employees died together Dec. 9, 1997, when environmental engineer Sherry Ducken and management analyst Trudy Sullivan were struck by a truck and killed in a crosswalk outside of City Hall. A third employee, Phil Cohen, also was injured in that accident.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.