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Three climbers die in Washington’s Cascades

Three people were killed in a weekend climbing accident on a popular peak in the North Cascades National Park, officials said Monday. Another climber, injured by falling rocks, was airlifted to a hospital.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rock slides killed three climbers on a popular peak in a national park over the weekend and trapped the rest of their group on the cold, rainy mountain until rescuers could reach them Monday.

The victims were taking part in a class organized by a climbing club when the six-person group wound up in the path of the rock slides Sunday in North Cascades National Park.

The group was descending when falling rocks hit 61-year-old Jo Backus of Tacoma, the group leader and one of three instructors on the climb, said park spokesman Tim Manns.

The team had moved her to a different area to provide aid when another rock slide hit them, killing Backus and two others, Manns said.

The other victims were identified as Mark Harrison, of Bellevue, and John Augenstein, of Seattle. The men’s ages were not immediately available.

Another climber, Wayne McCourt, of Fife, was seriously injured and passed in and out of consciousness until rescuers reached them Monday morning, Manns said. He was airlifted to a Seattle hospital where he was listed in satisfactory condition on Monday afternoon.

“It was a long, difficult night to make it through, and he did,” Manns said.

The other two climbers were not injured.

Rain briefly hampers recovery
Rain overnight hindered the rescue efforts, but rangers were able to send a helicopter to the site after daybreak, Manns said. Climbing rangers remained on the scene to evacuate the three bodies, Manns said.

Steve Costie, Seattle director for The Mountaineers, said it was the respected climbing club’s “worst disaster ever.”

“We don’t take it lightly. These people are in it like apprentices and they work their way up,” Costie said. “You can’t do it overnight, so we take a lot of time with them.”

It also was believed to be the first multiple-death climbing accident in more than 10 years at the park, park spokesman Tim Manns said.

Sharkfin Tower is located along a ridge of peaks in the Boston Basin area, 90 miles northeast of Seattle.

Backus’ family said she was an experienced climber, summiting nearly 200 peaks over the course of 20 years.