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Threat of Avalanches Delays Search

February 15, 1999

BELLINGHAM, Wash. (AP) _ Avalanche danger Monday kept search parties from looking for a young man who vanished in an earlier slide that took the life of a snowboarder.

The mile-long avalanche buried a stretch of Mount Baker in snow and debris up to 20 feet deep. The body of snowboarder Justin M. Parker, 19, of Parkland, was recovered Sunday, but then search efforts were suspended because of extreme avalanche danger.

Sean Riches, 25, of London, Ontario, believed to be a skier, was still missing.

Signs and a rope line warn those venturing into the Rumble Gully area, just outside the Mount Baker Ski Area, about 90 miles northeast of Seattle. But no avalanche-control work is allowed or done in the area, ski area spokeswoman Gwyn Howat said Monday.

The sign informs hikers, snowboarders and skiers that there will be a $500 minimum fine for any rescue effort, and notes that such efforts may not be possible.

The slide was estimated to be moving ``close to 200 miles per hour,″ and took seconds to bury the entire slope, Howat said.

About 20 feet of snow had fallen in the area over the past 12 days, so going outside the maintained ski area was like ``playing Russian roulette,″ Whatcom County Deputy Ron Peterson said.

Doug Freymeyer, operations leader for Bellingham Mountain Rescue, said the avalanche was the largest he had seen on the 10,778-foot peak.

More snow is expected in the next few days _ topping off 690 inches of snowfall so far this season.

Still missing in Rumble Gully is Jason Edward Carey Fuller, 25, of Bellingham, a snowboarder who vanished in a mid-January avalanche.

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