Avalanche victims' names released

Written by Baker City Herald February 13, 2014 12:33 pm

Jake Merrill, 23, of Bellingham, Wash., and Shane Coulter, 30, of Seattle, are the two backcountry skiers who were killed by an avalanche Tuesday in the southern Wallowa Mountains of Baker County.
 
Merrill was a guide for Wallowa Alpine Huts of Joseph, and Coulter one of six clients taking a multi-day ski trip with the outfitting company.
 
The Baker County Sheriff's Office included the victims' names in a press release this afternoon.
 
The two injured skiers who were rescued on Wednesday evening are Bruno Bachinger, 40, of Snohomish, Wash., and Suzan Polizzi, 60, of Wenatchee, Wash. Both were flown by helicopter to St. Mary's Trauma Unit in Walla Walla, Wash. 
 
Three skiers who were not hurt are Raymon Pinney, 32, Allan Ponio, 36, and Quinton Dowling, 26, all of Seattle.
 
The eighth member of the group, Chris Edwards-Hill of Enterprise, also a guide for Wallowa Alpine Huts, was not hurt.
The bodies of Merrill and Coulter have not been recovered because conditions are too dangerous. 
 
Several local groups and agencies assisted in the rescue effort, including: Baker County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, Baker County Sheriff’s Patrol, The Panhandle Snowmobile club of Halfway, U.S. Forest Service, Baker County Emergency Management, Baker County Consolidated 911 Dispatch, Halfway Oxbow Ambulance, Pine Valley Fire of Halfway, Oregon National Guard, Idaho National Guard, Anthony Lake Mountain Resort, Wallowa County Search and Rescue,  Eagle Valley Ambulance, Wallowa Alpine Huts Ski Outfitter, Wallowa Avalanche Center and the staff at the Baker City Airport.
 
The Wallowa Avalanche Center, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization based in Joseph, issued a press release today stating that its members have finished an initial field evaluation of the deadly avalanche.
 
"Severe weather and unstable snow conditions kept the team from directly evaluating the avalanche scene, however many details of the slide were reported by reliable witnesses," according to the press release.
 
"Today the avalanche center team is assisting in developing a plan to recover the two bodies still at the accident site. Heavy snowfall and winds overnight filled in the avalanche path and created dangerous slide conditions. During the rescue operation (Wednesday), crews reported numerous natural avalanches in the area.

"The avalanche center team is completing a formal report following the guidelines of the Forest Service National Avalanche Center. Once the report is completed and reviewed, it will be submitted to the national avalanche accident archives database at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center."

Further updates will be posted on the Avalanche Center website, www.wallowaavalanchecenter.org