By MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News
(KITITAS COUNTY, Wa.) — A Washington state trooper was killed in an avalanche while snowmobiling, authorities said.
Trooper Steve Houle, 51, a nearly 30-year veteran of the Washington State Patrol, died Monday, according to the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office.
Houle was snowmobiling with a friend in French Cabin Creek, north of Cle Elum in central Washington, when the avalanche occurred shortly before 1 p.m. local time, the sheriff’s office said.
Both men were caught in the snow. The companion was able to dig himself out but was unable to find Houle, authorities said. The friend went to get help, and Kittitas County Search and Rescue crews were able to locate Houle’s body several hours later, around 7 p.m. He was found deceased, authorities said.
According to a preliminary report by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the men were riding motorized snow bikes when they were caught in a “very large” avalanche. The friend was partially buried, while Houle was fully buried in the snow, it said.
“On behalf of the Sheriff’s Office, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to Trooper Houle’s family, friends and the Washington State Patrol,” Sheriff Clayton Myers said in a statement. “This is a tragic accident and will be felt hard in our close-knit law enforcement community.”
Houle, of Cle Elum, served for over 28 years in the state patrol’s commercial vehicle division in Kittitas County.
“Steve was a great person and an excellent employee, loved and respected by us all,” Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste said in a statement. “We hold his memory and his family close to our hearts in this painfully sad time.”
His colleagues also reacted to news of his sudden passing.
“Our hearts are broken tonight as we mourn the loss of a great trooper,” Washington State Patrol District 1 spokesperson Trooper Ryan Burke tweeted Monday. “Rest easy brother, you will be missed.”
Houle was the 22nd person in the U.S. — and first in Washington state — to die in an avalanche so far this winter season, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Last week, the Northwest Avalanche Center said there had been “numerous avalanche involvements and near-misses” recently in the Pacific Northwest, and warned that “many of our zones will likely see high avalanche danger with uniquely unstable snowpack conditions” over the weekend.
As of Tuesday, there is considerable avalanche danger for the central Washington region, according to the center.
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