WSDOT employee safe after natural avalanche buries equipment during clearing efforts on Chinook Pass
CHINOOK PASS – A natural avalanche swept down the hillside of State Route 410 over Chinook Pass yesterday morning, trapping an employee inside a piece of equipment for several hours.
Washington State Department of Transportation crews were performing routine snow clearing when the avalanche occurred at approximately 10 a.m. yesterday. An employee working in a bulldozer about a mile east of the summit quickly radioed to crews that snow had covered his bulldozer to the top of the cab and he was trapped. Fortunately, he wasn’t injured and WSDOT avalanche crews were able to free him from the bulldozer just before 3 p.m. yesterday.
“We do everything we can to keep incidents like this from happening, but we work in a dynamic environment that involves a fair amount of risk,” said John Stimberis, WSDOT avalanche supervisor. “Unfortunately, Thursday was one of those riskier days. We’re glad our co-worker is safe.”
Due to continued avalanche danger, WSDOT took every precaution necessary to keep everyone as safe as possible during the rescue mission. The employee was well-protected in the bulldozer: he had enough ventilation to receive fresh air and was safe to remain where he was until crews could free him.
“A quicker rescue was possible, but only with an increased risk. Cool heads, communication, good training and the right equipment were important to this rescue operation,” said Wayne Frudd, WSDOT safety manager. “We had all the right tools in place when it happened and were able to respond quickly.”
Since April 2, crews have been busy plowing and blasting their way through heavy snow in order to reopen Chinook Pass to traffic by Memorial Day weekend. However, this week the pass received more than a foot of snow and warmer temperatures increased avalanche danger.
“This work is very challenging,” said Don Whitehouse, WSDOT regional administrator. “Even though we take every precaution necessary to keep our people safe, it still comes with risk. Safety is our number one priority, and although our target every year is to reopen the pass by Memorial Day weekend, the safety of our crews comes first.”
If conditions improve, crews plan to resume clearing efforts next week and reopen the pass by Memorial Day weekend.