Cause of avalanche unknown, Maryland climber contends Guide wrong to take blame, Phoenix man says

June 15, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County mountain climber who escaped death Thursday in an avalanche on Mount Rainier in Washington state yesterday questioned whether anyone could tell who or what caused the slide that injured him and seven others, one fatally.

"It's ludicrous to blame anyone for this avalanche. No one can tell for sure what set it off," said Kent P. Swanson, 53, who arrived at his home in the 13700 block of Harcum Road, Phoenix, on Saturday.

Swanson was reacting to two statements after the slide that hit ** 10 descending climbers. A guide, Tyler Forman, said that his foot slipped in wet snow and "that's what triggered the slide." Chief Ranger John Krambrink reportedly confirmed the finding but said it was preliminary.

Swanson said Forman had admitted to him his fear of being responsible for the accident on the 14,410-foot glaciated peak after Forman rushed down from the team he was guiding 50 to 75 feet above Swanson's to assist the eight injured hikers.

The injured included Patrick Nestler, 29, a civil engineer from Rowayton, Conn., who died later of massive trauma.

"I told Tyler it could have been anyone or anything that started the slide," said Swanson, who broke the tibia in his right leg.

"It could have been any team that preceded his, including mine, that might have weakened the heavy wet snow. It could have been the person ahead of him or the person behind him. It might not have happened if the three other, slower teams had kept up with us. We don't know."

Avalanches are often caused by a combination of factors, such as snowpack size, different types of layers of snow (for example, heavy, wet snow and light, dry snow) or temperature changes.

"If someone had run recklessly across the snowfield, it could be said he caused the avalanche, but that didn't happen," Swanson said. "People were carefully watching their feet. Tyler's feeling pretty guilty, and he shouldn't be."

Forman was the guide, employed by Rainier Mountaineering Inc., who led Swanson, his brother, Gregg Swanson, 43, of Los Angeles, and three other climbers to the summit. Forman was assigned to another team for the descent.

The avalanche hit the 10 lower climbers in a 10- to-15-second period of terror Thursday.

Within five minutes, Kent Swanson said, senior guide Ned Randolph and Forman had "flown down the mountain to us, securing us. "

The Swanson brothers made the climb as a memorial hike for Kent's son, Kent Jr., 25, a mountain guide, who was killed in a helicopter crash in the Canadian Rockies last year.

Pub Date: 6/15/98

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