PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A backcountry ski guide and his client were identified Thursday as the people killed in an Eastern Oregon avalanche, while two of their rescued companions were recovering at a hospital after suffering broken bones and spending more than 24 hours stranded on a snowy slope.
Baker County Undersheriff Warren Thompson said the bodies of Shane Coulter, a 30-year-old aerospace engineer from Seattle, and Jake Merrill, a 23-year-old guide from Bellingham, Wash., remained on the mountain because the avalanche risk was too great for recovery teams.
The avalanche struck Tuesday as a party of six experienced skiers and two guides was on its third day of a five-day trek through the backcountry of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
Preliminary information from the Wallowa Avalanche Center said the avalanche started about 440 feet from the top of the 8,640-foot Cornucopia Peak and traveled 1,200 feet. It took rescuers all day Wednesday to get the injured man and woman off the mountain amid heavy snow and poor visibility.
Thompson said the two were conscious before they were flown to St. Mary Medical Center in Walla Walla, Wash. The injured woman, Susan Polizzi, 60, of Wenatchee, Wash., suffered two broken legs and a broken arm, while the man, Bruno Bachinger, 40, of Snohomish, Wash., had a broken thigh bone.
Kathleen Obenland, a hospital spokeswoman, said the two remained hospitalized Thursday in satisfactory condition.
Polizzi, in a statement released by the hospital, said she survived in part because of the efforts of a guide who "scarcely left her side" and the skills of the rescuers who brought her to safety. Bachinger also wrote a statement thanking rescuers.
The other four members of the party escaped injury and safely left the mountain. The sheriff's office identified the skiers, all from Seattle, as Allen Ponio, 36; Raymon Pinney, 32; and Quinton Dowling, 26. The second guide, Chris Edwards-Hill, of Enterprise, Ore., assisted three other guides from Wallowa Alpine Huts who came to the rescue of the victims.
Coulter worked as an engineer and was a skier all his life, said Nelda Oldham of Bakersfield, Calif., whose granddaughter married him. He earned a master's degree last year from the University of Washington.
"Let me just say this: I know it's very common for people to extol the virtues of people when they die. This kid was extraordinary," Oldham said. "He was modest, humble, real brainy. He was just extraordinary."