Mess Media




Bodies of 3 missing snowboarders found in backcountry

By Linda Shaw

Seattle Times, June 22, 2008

Friends who continued to search for three Seattle-area snowboarders missing since December didn't expect to find their bodies until much later this summer, the mother of one of the snowboarders said.

On Saturday, however, enough snow had melted in backcountry outside Crystal Mountain that they spotted a tent in the snow.

Friends had gone out at least several times since the Pierce County Sheriff's Office called off the search about a week after the men disappeared, said Sally Hollins, mother of Phillip Hollins, 41.

"Nobody thought they'd find them until August or something," she said.

When the friends found the tent, they called the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, and deputies went to the scene Saturday and prepared the bodies to be airlifted out, said spokesman Ed Troyer. They were too far out in the backcountry to carry out, he said.

The three men were found in the tent, Troyer said, and it appears they were all together when an avalanche hit.

Killed along with Hollins were Kevin Carter, 26, and Devlin Williams, 29.

If they were killed in an avalanche, they were among the victims in one of the deadliest avalanche seasons in 30 years. In December and early January, eight people were killed or presumed dead in avalanches in Washington state. The other incidents occurred near Snoqualmie Pass, at Mount Rainier National Park and north of Mount Baker.

Heavy snowfall accumulated quickly in the mountain ranges, creating ideal conditions for snow resorts, but also a perilous situation for hikers, skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers who headed to the backcountry. On average, there are just one or two avalanche deaths in the Pacific Northwest from November to May.

Carter, Hollins and Williams planned to take a two-night trip into the backcountry outside of Crystal. A search started Dec. 3 after they failed to return, but avalanches, whiteout conditions and floods hampered those efforts. The men had reportedly carried a rescue beacon with them, but searchers didn't detect a signal.

At the time, Paul Baugher, ski-patrol director at Crystal Mountain, said avalanches had hit every slope in the backcountry area where the three men were believed to have headed.

Friends said the men were experienced snowboarders and hikers familiar with difficult terrain.

Carter worked for Fleetfoot Messenger Service as a bicycle messenger. Hollins made car deliveries for the same company. Williams was a former Fleetfoot employee.

Sally Hollins said the three loved to climb and snowboard and hike. The only thing that's kept her going, she said, is that she knew her son was where he wanted to be.

If he had to die, she said, "he would much rather be left up there."

A lot of people say, "Oh, they shouldn't have been up there," she said. "Everybody knows all the answers and nobody knows any answers."

"If you have to die in a hurry," she added, "that's probably the way to go. It certainly leaves a hell of a hole here, I'll tell you."