Idaho Avalanche Kills Two

Idaho Avalanche Kills Two

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- An avalanche that rushed down central Idaho's Soldier Mountain resort struck a cabin early Friday, killing the dean of the University of Washington's graduate school and her husband.

Marsha Landolt, 55, and Robert A. Busch, 58, were killed in the avalanche, which occurred about 1:30 a.m., the Camas County Sheriff's Office reported.

Five other family members survived. Two dug themselves out and went for help; the other three were rescued.

Emergency workers evacuated all the cabins in the region until the avalanche danger passes, officials said. The ski resort was also closed for the day, partly because of the risk of additional avalanches and partly because resort workers needed time to groom the trails with the freshly fallen snow.

Landolt had been dean and a vice provost of the university since 1996, university spokesman Bob Roseth said. She was previously director of the university's School of Fisheries and has authored more than 70 scientific papers on fish pathology.

The cabin was about one mile south of the Soldier Mountain ski area. It sat on Soldier road, at the base of a gully that cuts through a high ridge on Soldier Mountain, said Kyle Davenport, an administrative assistant at Soldier Mountain Ski Resort who assisted in the rescue effort.

Soldier Mountain is in the Sawtooth National Forest about 80 east of Boise.

A heavy slab of snow along the ridge broke loose, triggering the avalanche, Davenport said. The cabin occupied by Landolt and Busch was slammed with the bulk of the snow.

"From what the locals on Search and Rescue said, it was the biggest avalanche they've seen in a long time," Davenport said. "It looks like somebody just fired the snow through the windows on that whole side of the building. The room where the grandparents were found was filled nearly to the ceiling with snow and the bed was pushed clear against the far wall."

Landolt and Busch's son and daughter-in-law were sleeping in the loft with their three small children, Davenport said. When they were awakened by the avalanche, the son immediately tried to dig out his parents.

After about an hour and a half of digging, Davenport said, the son made his way out of the cabin and went to a neighbor's home to call the Search and Rescue team.

"We got there at about 3:40 a.m., and at that point we knew it was a recovery effort," said Davenport. "It took the team probably another 45 minutes to an hour to get the grandparents out."

A neighboring cabin was also struck by the avalanche, but it was mostly shielded by Landolt's and Busch's cabin and suffered only minor damage, Davenport said.

At around noon on Friday, Davenport said, emergency workers heard barking coming from underneath the snow inside the cabin's living room. Though they first believed the family's pet dog had died, the animal had apparently been pushed through a glass screen into the fireplace, where he was able to get air through the chimney.

"We were able to get him out. He was scratched up and scared but otherwise OK," Davenport said.

The debris field at the base of the avalanche was nearly 200 yards wide, and between 10 and 15 feet deep, Davenport said.

"It's too early to tell what exactly triggered it, but we had a high avalanche danger based on the weather we got yesterday. At five o'clock last night the wind just went ballistic, and we had a lot of snow with what seemed like a high moisture content."

University of Washington President Lee Huntsman said the deaths were a terrible loss.

"Our hearts go out to Marsha's and Bob's families. Marsha spent her whole career here, was a brilliant scientist, and a forceful and effective advocate for graduate education both here at the University and at the national level. The University is in mourning on this very sad day," Huntsman said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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