Search and rescue workers and volunteers are scouring the Mount Baker wilderness – amid near-whiteout conditions and avalanche danger – for two Bellingham men missing since Sunday night.
Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue team, along with local volunteer organizations and others, are searching for two men in their 20s, said WCSO Deputy Mark Jilk, who coordinates backcountry rescues.
Sheriff Bill Elfo later identified the pair as Jake Amancio and Drew Lenz.
Jilk said via text message that the search is for the two who “went out on snowboards (Sunday) who haven’t come out.”
Elfo said a roommate notified authorities about 4 p.m. Sunday that Amancio and Lenz were overdue from a snowboarding excursion at Heather Meadows.
“The assumption is that they’re still in the area,” Elfo said.
Gwyn Howat, Mt. Baker Ski Area’s executive vice president, said the ski area’s operations manager and Ski Patrol director confirmed for deputies that the missing men’s car was at the Heather Meadows parking area. She said employees continue to be alert for signs of the men as workers prepare the slopes for Thursday’s winter season opening.
Howat said ski area workers also conducted a transceiver search, listening for emergency beacons.
Elfo said deputies and volunteers were alerted overnight and assembled teams and equipment to begin searching at 7 a.m. Monday. They ended the search with darkness at 4 p.m. and resumed at 9 a.m. Tuesday, using snowmobiles and teams on foot.
The search was called off soon after it got dark Tuesday, and because weather conditions again deteriorated.
“It was whiteout conditions and there was a high risk of avalanche danger,” Elfo said, adding search teams will monitor the weather Wednesday morning – they will resume the search if it’s safe.
Elfo said Border Patrol personnel are assisting the sheriff’s search team, along with volunteers from the Whatcom County Search and Rescue Council.
Undersheriff Jeff Parks said in a news release Tuesday afternoon that according to the roommate of the snowboarders, the two men planned to spend the day “near the upper parking lot and be home by early evening.”
“The areas thought to be most likely to be used by backcountry skiers were checked as safely as possible by searchers with no clues found and no sign of the missing snowboarders,” Parks said in the news release. “The weather during the day created extremely hazardous conditions, heavy snow and high wind, creating avalanche and visibility concerns.”
Challenging weather conditions
Some 6 inches of snow fell overnight, Mt. Baker Ski Area reported Tuesday morning.
A winter storm warning is in effect for the area through noon Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.
Daytime accumulations of 15 to 21 inches were possible Tuesday with gusty winds of 20 mph. Snow is forecast for Tuesday night, with additional accumulations of 22 to 28 inches through Wednesday afternoon.
“Extreme conditions are expected to continue and will be evaluated for the possibility of further searching, however it is quite possible that conditions will be too hazardous to send volunteers out,” Parks said.
The Bellingham Herald reporter Denver Pratt contributed to this report.