Search in Cascades could resume Monday for Renton dentist

Dr. Mitch Hungate -
Dr. Mitch Hungate
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The search for Dr. Mitch Hungate, a Renton dentist missing in an avalanche in the Cascades last weekend, could resume on Monday, when the weather is expected to improve, according to a longtime family friend.

The search for the Hungate, 61, was called of mid-week because of dangerous snow conditions in the mountains.

Hungate, who lives in the Lake Tapps area, has practiced in Renton for about 30 years and has served the community, including as president of the Renton Rotary Club. Dr. Derick Hahn has worked with him at their office on Southwest Grady Way for about five years.

Hungate's wife Marilyn will return to the Cascades when the search resumes.

She made it clear Friday she and family and friends don't want rescuers placed at risk in order to resume the search, something, she said, her husband wouldn't want either.

"It was hard not being as close to him as we could," she said. "We also know he's here with us."

The family has a strong Christian faith, she said, "and we know we will be together again in Jesus Christ."

Hungate was hiking with two other men, both 31, when they were caught by surprise by an avalanche on Granite Mountain at about 12:40 p.m. Saturday.

The two men survived, suffering minor injuries, and were able to call 911 and alert Jim Berrios of Kent, a close friend of the Hungates. Berrios called Marilyn Hungate to let her know of the avalanche.

Marilyn Hungate and Berrios and his wife Suzanne maintained a vigil at the search-and-rescue staging area off Interstate 90 until it became clear that the conditions were too dangerous to allow for continued search.

Berrios said Friday they plan to return to the mountain Sunday to set up their motor home in anticipation of the resumption of the search on Monday.

They plan to hold a vigil at the staging area once they receive word that Hungate's body has been found. Berrios said they would have two or three hours to reach people by phone before Hungate's body is removed from the mountain. He'll call those who have left a phone number with him; his phone number is 253-350-1811 for those who wish to be called to come to tribute to Hungate.

The vigil will be about a quarter-mile in from Exit 47, the Denny Creek exit, off Interstate 90 east of North Bend.

Many had already come to the mountain or dozens called Berrios for updates on the search.

Friends, family and Hungate's patients are facing the likelihood that Hungate died in the avalanche.

"Unfortunately, that is the realization we're having to deal with," Berrios said. He said too much time has passed and the conditions have been cold in the mountains.

Berrios met Hungate about 20 years at a health club. Their families have grown close and Hungate is the Berrios family dentist.

King County Search and Rescue teams were already in the area for training exercises, so their response was quick after the emergency call, Berrios said. They also responded to a second avalanche in which a Bellevue physician was killed.

The Berrioses and Marilyn Hungate waited another night even after rescuers told them that they wouldn't be able to search on Sunday morning as expected. That was a heartbreaker, Berrios said.

They walked up the trail a ways, but came back when they lost the trail. Berrios said they knew Hungate wouldn't want them to go any farther.

But they had already decided to wait for Hungate to come down the mountain.

"If anyone could survive an avalanche and make it down the mountain, it would be Mitch," Berrios said.

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