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Body of one climber killed in central Washington avalanche recovered

Seong Cho was with backcountry travelers on Colchuck Peak when the ground shifted. Two other climbers, Jeannie Lee and Yun Park, are presumed dead and have not been found.
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The body of one of three people presumed dead in a central Washington avalanche was recovered Friday, officials said.

The victim was identified as Seong Cho, 54, of West Hartford Connecticut, according to the sheriff's office. His body was located under a thin layer of snow using GPS coordinates provided by a surviving hiker, the Chelan County Sheriff's Office said.

Cho's body was turned over to the Chelan County Coroner’s Office for further investigation, the sheriff's office said.

A Snohomish County sheriff’s helicopter was used for the recovery, the office said.

The other two people presumed dead were identified earlier in the week as Jeannie Lee, 60, from Bayside New York, and Yun Park, 66, of Palisades Park New Jersey.

Cho, Lee and Park were among six “backcountry travelers” on Colchuck Peak, which is near the Cascade Mountains village of Leavenworth about 120 miles east of downtown Seattle, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center.

The accident happened about 1 p.m. Feb. 19 at 7,600 feet above sea level, Chelan County Sheriff's Sgt. Jason Reinfeld said.

“It sounds like the lead climber actually [caused the avalanche] by planting his ice ax [and he] triggered a slab that they were on to slide," Reinfeld said. "The ice ax created a crack that allowed the slab to slide."

Reinfeld said that the incident was an accident and that the lead climber was not to be blamed.

“That is something that happens," he said. "You can mitigate those risks by knowing avalanche conditions and being aware of what could trigger it and how hazardous conditions are."

The three victims slid about 500 feet and most likely "died from trauma," not from being buried under snow, Reinfeld added.

The other survivors returned to Leavenworth, he said. Conditions Tuesday, including gusts of up to 60 mph, were too dangerous to launch a recovery effort for the three victims, authorities said.

On Friday, authorities said the weather had cleared enough to restart recovery efforts. Search teams used Recco technology, which can home in on locator chips embedded in climbing clothing and gear, but the remains of the two others lost in the avalanche have not been recovered.