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He soon made a full recovery. The other two victims were in worse shape. After their breathing rate was up to 14 per minute, Dr. Bohannan advised moving them to the Loveland Basin Ski Patrol infir- mary. They were transported in the ski area's station wagon and another car volunteered by a by-stander. There they were placed under the care of Dr. Fowler, the medical officer in charge. Before leaving the scene of the slide, the ski patrol and Forest Service personnel in- sisted on checking names and numbers to as- certain that all persons were accounted for.
Only when this was done, did they leave. At Loveland Basin, Dr. Fowler placed Fritzler and Porschatis under resuscitators, one that he had and another that was brought up from the Idaho Springs Fire Department. They were later transported by two ambul- ances to St. Anthony's Hospital in Denver ac- companied by pro patrolmen. The victims had difficulties on the trip in. One stopped brea- thing briefly and had to be revived with the resuscitator.
Although the oxygen ran out on the other, he continued to breathe fairly nor- mally. Both had convulsions during the trip, and neither regained consciousness. They were admitted to the emergency room at St. Anthony's Hospital and treated immediately; both were in critical condition and suffering from anoxia effects of having been without oxygen. Both boys suffered irreparable brain damage from anoxia; Porschatis died 4 days later, and Fritzler finally succumbed several months after the accident.
In this case, the slide was triggered by the weight of the climbing party on the slope. The slope had sustained the weight of the climbers for several minutes before failure occurred. The hard slab had formed from the recent snow and strong winds; snow depth was 3 to 5 feet in the lee of the ridge but much of the windward side had been blown bare. Fracture-line depth was 5 feet at the apex of the slide and 3 to 4 feet where the party was training. The slide ran only feet vertically, but a large volume of snow was moved.
The debris contained many large blocks of snow. Beneath the slab was several inches of depth hoar which had formed in the shallow snow- pack earlier in the winter. Contributing to the danger of this slide path was the cut bank above the highway. The avalanche filled in this bank and resulted in all three victims being deeply buried. Six of the Seven Sisters avalanche paths had run the day before, January 6. These had been shot down with artillery as part of the avalanche control on the Loveland Pass high- way.
Avalanche hazard was definitely high. Comments Kincey was a good leader and was experi- enced in climbing techniques and winter sur- vival; however, he apparently did not consider the possibility of avalanches, or he misjudged the stability of the snowpack on this day. Two mistakes were made, one in planning and one in judgment.
First, a review of the preparations for the outing shows it to have been carefully planned except for one omission — no avalanche emergency equipment! They were properly clothed for winter weather and their equip- ment included suitable camping equipment, emergency gear, hard hats, first aid kit, 2-way radios, and a litter. However, had the boys been wearing avalanche cords, recovery of the buried victims might have been quicker. Avalanche cords should not be trusted too highly; they also can end up completely buried.
Furthermore, no probe poles were included in the emergency gear. The omission of both these items suggested that an av- alanche mishap had not been considered. Knowledge of the conditions was avail- able at Loveland Basin and Arapahoe Basin ski areas. Both areas were concerned and had blasted slopes on Friday and Saturday. Avalanche danger was unusually high. Snow slides came down in Loveland Basin in places where they had never been seen before.
Had Kincey inquired about local conditions, he might have been warned and might have can- celed the trip. In addition, had he known the area better, he would have known that the chosen slope had a past avalanche history. However, the slope did appear safe, but deceptively so.
It was not overly steep nor was it long. There was a flat runout at the bottom. The surface was tested and it was hard, but deeper probing with probe poles or ice axes would have re- vealed the weak, cohesionless layer. Further deception was added by the nearness of the highway. It was felt the group was safe even in the event of mishap because their vehicle with all of their emergency equipment aboard was only yards away. Once the tragedy struck, emergency pro- cedures were carried out well.
Kincey reacted excellently under stress and instantly as- sumed leadership of the rescue. He initiated a hasty search and within minutes had sent for help. Also he organized the passers-by into a search party that systematically probed for the victims.
The medical care they got was outstanding, considering the conditions. The ski patrol and U. Forest Service personnel at both Loveland Basin and Arapahoe Basin showed a remarkable state of readiness. Despite signs warning of avalanche dan- gers, this slope and the surrounding bowls continue to be popular ski-touring terrain, mainly because of the easy access.
These cir- cumstances virtually insure that more skiers or climbers will fall victims to avalanches in this area sooner or later. Winds were gu sting between 15 and 20 m. Several days earlier, strong northwest winds had built up considerable wind slab at higher elevations. On Saturday, several av- alanches were shot down at Alta, and several more were brought down at both Alta and Brighton on Sunday.
The avalanches at Brigh- ton, however, were much larger than those at Alta, signaling a higher instability in the Brighton area. Before leaving, one member of the party called the Forest Service to check on avalanche conditions. He was told that the slab conditions created by recent west and north- west winds were still present. There was no widespread avalanche danger, but there was a very definite localized danger on high, lee slopes due to the heavy wind drifting during the last two days.
He was also advised to stick to the ridges as much as possible and to avoid any deep drift pockets on lee slopes. This was a group of well-experienced, well-equipped Wasatch Mountain Club mem- bers. All had experience in ski touring, but to different degrees. Two of the members had recently taken the National Ski Patrol Circle A Avalanche Course, and another member had received first aid training. The group's equipment included adequate clothing and food, climbing skins, avalanche cords, six av- alanche probes, six first aid kits, and an Au- strian portable toboggan.
The group climbed to the ridge, reaching it just west of Flagstaff Peak. Avalanche cords were used on the steeper slopes, but snow conditions appeared to be stable along the route that was followed. Party members were advised to maintain a reasonable separa- tion during the climb.
Once on the ridge the group traveled to- ward the east. Snow conditions varied from loose and reasonably light in wooded areas to extremely hard crust in the open areas. Ex- cept when traversing around Flagstaff Peak and around another minor peak about a half mile farther east, the group remained on the ridge. At the lowest point on the ridge above the head of Silver Fork, the group stopped for lunch. The Silver Fork slope directly below the point where the group ate lunch faces a north- easterly direction.
This slope, as well as those to the left west were devoid of trees. How- ever, to the right east were several clusters of fairly large trees. To gain the protection of this vegetation, and to get farther away from the lee slopes of the recent winds, it was sug- gested that skiers who preferred not to ski down the fall line take a traverse to the right east toward the trees. The time was Two of the first three skiers to leave the ridge, Milton Hollander and Lee Steortz, skied straight down; the third, Peter Hovingh, went to the right a short distance and then straight down.
Several others left the ridge and headed to the right. Then, as if the enthusiasm to ski suddenly struck the group, all but two, Char- les Keller and Ernest Katten, of the remain- ing skiers left the ridge. One turned to the left west and four others followed. They had proceeded 40 to 50 yards and were skiing very close together when the shot-like sound of the fracture was heard.
The snow on the slope immediately broke into large slabs and began to slide. Of the two remaining on the ridge, only one, Keller, was able to witness the entire slide. It was impossible for one person to keep track of 11 people below. When the snow stopped sliding, the location of more than three or four of them was very uncertain. The five who had skied to the left west remained standing during most of the slide, but when three of them finally fell, they were lost from view.
Thus, as soon as the snow stopped sliding, the two men remaining on the ridge Keller and Katten started down, looking for people or equipment on the way. About feet down the slope one ski was found; its owner, Hermann Haertel, was found clinging to a tree about 20 feet below. He was in consid- erable pain and claimed his right leg was bro- ken. His left ski, still secured to his boot, was removed and, together with both skis belong- ing to Keller, was placed in the snow below him so he could relax without rolling down the slope.
He was left there while the search for survivors continued. Keller went down to the point where several people were digging for Hollander who had been completely buried except for one hand, while Katten went to as- sist another group. Steve Viavant, who found himself on top of the snow, saw a hand. He started to dig and found Hollander. Hollander immediately asked if anyone else was buried. Viavant looked around and saw another hand nearby. He dug there and found Steortz. June Viavant had also remained on top of the snow.
She helped Schwenk, Townsend, and Wiens who were all buried to depths ranging from knee to waist deep. Keller arrived about the time Steortz's head was uncovered and helped dig Hollander out. As soon as he was free Hollander helped dig out Steortz, while Keller headed for another group, counting heads on the way.
Once the snow had stopped sliding, Hovingh, Delbert Wiens, and Suzanne Haertel had been thrown together. Wiens found him- self free on top of the snow. Haertel was buried to her waist to the west of Wiens. Hovingh was completely buried, but when he 10 opened his eyes he saw light. He shouted for help.
Wiens, who was almost overhead, heard him and started digging. Katten arrived on the scene from the ridge and helped Suzanne Haertel out of the snow, and then helped Wiens dig for Hovingh. Keller, who was count- ing people, found all accounted for and helped dig Hovingh free. By the time all people were out of the snow, it was determined that one man Her- mann Haertel had a broken or badly injured leg, another Steortz had a sprained ankle, and three Hollander, Hovingh, and Steortz had lost one ski each.
Knowing that additional help could be used to take the injured man out and that the three men with single skis could probably use help, three people Katten, De- lbert, and Carol Wiens were sent down to ad- vise the sheriff and ask for aid. They left about fifteen minutes after the avalanche, about They arrived at Solitude Ski Area at and reported the accident to the ski patrol who, in turn, notified the U. Forest Service. While the three men who had been buried probed for their lost skis they did not find them , the rest of the party climbed back up the avalanche slope to the injured man.
He was suffering intense pain, so much so that it was doubtful that he could be moved while in that condition. He was given a Percodan cap- sule, a pain relieving drug that was carried for just such an emergency. His skis and poles were used to assemble the emergency tobog- gan. By the time it was ready, the capsule had taken effect, and his spirits and morale had improved considerably. All excess clothing — mostly sweaters — were used to wrap his in- jured leg, and it was lashed to his good leg with climbing skins and secured by straps.
He was then placed in the toboggan and the cover laced over him. In this position, his injured leg was completely immobile. He was taken from the avalanche slope by four men. At the bot- tom, they tied four ropes to the toboggan and the long trip down to the Solitude Ski Area began. The time was approximately At this time two of the men who had been buried, and who had only one ski each Hol- lander and Steortz , were sent ahead so that they could move down Silver Fork at their own pace and attempt to get to the highway before sundown.
They arrived at the Solitude Ski Area at All party members were at Solitude by about after a difficult trip. After the in- jured man reached the hospital and X-rays were taken, it was found that he had no broken bones. Several torn ligaments were repaired in a subsequent operation, but he was still left with a badly damaged nerve in the leg.
The latter accounted for his intense pain on the avalanche slope. The avalanche was classified as SS-AS The entire slope av- alanched, being some feet wide and run- ning a vertical distance of about feet. The 11 skiers who had triggered the slide and who were caught were concentrated in the eastern one-third of the slope. When the slope failed, there was the loud shot-like report and then the slab shattered into large pieces, some large enough that three skiers remained on top of the snow.
The fracture line varied from 4 inches deep to more than 1 foot. Although much loose, light snow was involved, there was no dust cloud, allowing Keller on the ridge above to follow visually many of the skiers as they were trap- ped. The three men who were completely buried were well below the fracture line when the slide began; the five others that were partly buried were nearer the fracture line. Comments In all, 11 skiers were caught in the Silver Fork avalanche; 8 were buried, and 2 injured.
Fortunately for the three completely buried victims, they were very near the surface; two had one hand showing and the cries for help of the third were quickly answered. The snow and avalanche conditions re- ported to the group by the Forest Service that morning proved to be quite accurate. The Silver Fork slope was on the lee side of the ridge and was an area of localized danger be- cause of wind slab. Shooting reports from Alta and Brighton that came in after the group had left revealed, however, that the avalanche danger was greater than had been suspected, especially near Brighton.
It can be concluded that two factors were primarily responsible for the avalanche. First, the number of people on the slope at one time was excessive; second, the suggestion that several of the skiers ski to the right east to gain the protection of the trees was not heeded. The fact the avalanche extended 11 about 50 yards to the east and yards to the suggests that had everyone gone toward the west of the entry point on the ridge, and the right east , the avalanche might never have decrease in slab thickness toward the east, been triggered.
In mid- October, a snowstorm dropped 21 inches of snow in the area. A clear period followed and the snow melted off the southern exposures, but patches remained on north-facing slopes. In mid-November another storm left 2 feet of snow on the ground for the winter.
The November storm was followed by several days of cold, clear weather, and a tendency toward depth-hoar formation was noted on north-facing slopes. The snowpack gradually built up until mid-December, at which time there was a period of warm, clear weather. During January an unusually large amount of snowfall was dropped by the storms that came in rapid succession with only brief breaks separating them.
Throughout the month there were only 8 days when no precipi- tation was measured. One of these interludes occurred on January On the afternoon of the 19th, the winds began to gust up to 30 m. It became apparent that a major storm was coming. Little snow fell on the 19th and the 20th, but the winds continued blowing strongly from the southwest. On January 21, snow began to fall in earnest, and the wind gained intensity. The winds became so strong that day that the Germania chairlift was closed.
It was noticed that north- and east-facing slopes were becoming loaded with drifting snow. Accident Summary During the period from January 18 to 28, the U. Forest Service was conducting its biannual avalanche school at Alta for Forest Service personnel. The field session for the afternoon of the 21st involved snow-profile studies on the mountain. The original plan was to dig snow pits to check the stratigraphy up high on the mountain in the release zones of some of the larger slides in the area.
However, the closing of the Germania lift caused a change in plans. It was decided to carry out the field work on the ridge below the Albion gun tower, just west of the top of the Albion ski lift. Leader Ed LaChapelle took the avalanche trainees to an area off the ridge and just east of a short slide path. There they dug a snow pit that revealed 21 inches of wind-deposited new snow overlaying slightly decomposed fine- grained old snow.
Below the fairly solid old snow was a weak layer in which equi- temperature metamorphism had taken place. Underlying this layer was 6 inches of weak depth hoar capped by an ice crust. The depth hoar was probably formed after the early Oc- tober storm, and the ice layer formed during the period of warm weather prior to the November storm. The layer of equi- temperature metamorphism crystals ET crystals, for short reflected the clear period following the November storm.
Snow Ranger Ron Perla was in the snow pit explaining the stratigraphy to the trainees. When he found the depth hoar, he decided that conditions were highly unstable. He asked the more experienced LaChapelle for his opinion, and LaChapelle said that he agreed strongly with Perla's diagnosis.
The avalanche oc- curred almost immediately after these comments. The four were expert skiers, the two men being ski instruc- tors from Vail,Colorado. The closing of the Germania lift had eliminated some of the bet- ter powder snow runs; therefore the four de- cided to look for a challenge off the Albion lift, basically a beginner and easy intermediate area. The party skied out the ridge to a point just west of the route the Forest Service per- sonnel had taken. Upon reaching the top of the short, steep slide path off Never-Sweat Ridge now named the Vail Slide they stopped momentarily; then Peterson skied about half- way down the slope, stopping next to some small trees.
At this point, members of the av- alanche school heard him calling out to the 13 NO. This was the first that the avalanche school knew of the group's presence on the slope. Steve Haber and Hayes immediately started down the slope, Haber in the lead.
As he was making a hard jump turn to the right about one-quarter of the way down, the snow frac- tured above him; this carried him, Hayes, and Peterson down the hill. The fracture line was about feet above Peterson, 35 feet above Haber and 15 feet above Hayes at the moment of release. As the three people were being car- ried down the hill, LaChapelle directed the avalanche school trainees to follow them with their eyes. One skier was seen to enter a small clump of trees and moments later emerge down the slope.
The descent of Hayes was eas- ily followed because she stayed on the sur- face. Rescue As soon as the slide came to rest, the Forest Service personnel marked the last- seen points and began a hasty search of likely areas. One of the trainees immediately went up the hill to a point about 90 feet below the fracture line, where Hayes had come to rest.
She was found to be unharmed, though hyster- ical. When the avalanche broke, Perla was still in the snow pit. He jumped out immediately, mainly for fear that he would be buried in the pit and only secondarily to aid in the rescue. Nonetheless, he ran toward the moving av- alanche, following the path of Peterson who was being carried down the slope. Hence, Peterson was located almost immediately near the toe of the slide by a protruding ski tip.
He had come to rest on his back, face up, head downhill, and had managed to clear the snow from around his face as he came to a stop. His legs were buried under about 3 feet of snow; and his head was about 18 inches below the normal snow surface but not covered because of its position between two blocks of snow.
His arms were pinned down by his ski poles which were still on his wrists, but he was uninjured and calm when found. Minutes later groans were heard near one of the small trees about two-thirds of the way from the top of the slope; here, Steve Haber was located. He was found with his head downhill, lying mostly on his side.
While being carried along in the slide, he was forced against a tree, with his right ski passing on one side of the tree trunk and his body on the other. The force of the snow had thus put a great amount of force on his right leg. Although he was wearing safety bindings, they were over-tightened and did not release; his right leg was badly broken at boot-top level and was somewhat displaced, causing him severe pain.
His legs were under about 40 inches of snow; his head was about 18 inches deep but free of snow because of protection by tree branches. As Haber was being dug out of the debris, the Forest Service personnel were informed by one of the victims that there were four people to account for in the slide, and probing was immediately resumed for the remaining victim. When she had seen the slide release about 5 feet below her, she immediately jumped back to a tree at the top of the slope and had re- mained hidden there while the other victims were being accounted for.
She was very calm, although she later began to show some signs of shock. As soon as the avalanche occurred, two men were dispatched by LaChapelle to pick up probe poles and a toboggan from the top of the Albion lift. After all victims were accounted for, another man was dispatched to inform the lift operator that no probes were needed. Steve Haber had been dug free and his leg splinted by the time the toboggan arrived. He was evacuated to the ski patrol first aid room at the base of the Wildcat lift pending the arri- val of an ambulance from Salt Lake City.
At , the ambulance arrived and he was transported to a hospital in Salt Lake City. All rescue operations were secured at Avalanche Data The slide occurred on Never-Sweat Ridge, a fairly short northeast-facing slope and a known slide area. The slope has now been named the Vail Slide in dubious honor of the Vail ski instructors who became the victims.
The avalanche was classified as SS-AS-3, was 40 yards wide, and ran yards slope distance. The zigzag fracture line was 8 inches deep on the east end and 30 inches deep on the west. The sliding surface was discovered to be an ice layer with a layer of weak ET crystals above and depth hoar below. Comments This is the type of accident that is difficult to prevent. With a storm in progress, av- alanche hazard was increasing as the day wore 15 on. Dangerous areas were being closed as the intensity of the storm increased, but no clos- ures were in effect along Never-Sweat Ridge.
Because of the strong southwest winds, a condition of instability arose in just a few hours; the Vail Slide should have been either closed or checked for safety. This slope is now ski checked and hand charged during and after storms. However, ski checking is pushing one's luck on this slope; it deserves hand charges. December brought normal snowfall plus two rain storms which produced hard sliding surfaces in the snow- pack.
Above-normal snowfall was recorded in January , along with exceptional wind ac- tion. Early February in the Alta and Brighton area found the weather generally clear and mild. Snow depth at Alta measured inches. On February 10, a storm moved in and depo- sited 6 inches of new snow, most of it falling as graupel.
Strong northwest winds gusting to 40 and 50 m. February 11 broke clear and mild with moderate northwest winds. Afternoon cloudi- ness brought a trace of snow. They got off the top of Mt. Millicent lift and skied outside the ski area boundary without notifying anyone or inquir- ing about snow conditions. The selected route exposed them to extreme avalanche danger the entire way. They did remove their pole straps from their wrists, but their arlberg straps were left tied down on their skis.
Snow Ranger Will Bassett was standing on the ridge overlooking the Twin Lakes Pass area and the Brighton Ski Bowl when he observed the two men traversing across the hazardous avalanche area. Remarkably, he then observed the avalanche as it was released by the two skiers; the time was The snow fractured 80 yards above the men, and they were quickly engulfed by the slide. Gordon was carried yards downhill by the slide and buried just below the surface with his face up and head downhill.
He was able to get an arm free and clear his face. Anderson was carried approximately yards in the slide and remained on the surface. Rescue When the slide stopped, Anderson disco- vered that he had lost one ski and one pole. Nevertheless, he started downhill looking for Gordon and found him buried but unhurt. An- derson was able to dig out his companion. Not knowing that the skiers were unhurt, Snow Ranger Bassett reported the accident to the Brighton Ski Patrol at He then took three patrolmen and immediately headed for the accident scene.
Seven minutes later a sec- ond hasty party of five patrolmen left with probes, marking flags, and a shovel. Several minutes later, the main rescue party of 10 men left for the scene, fully equipped. At , the first hasty party led by Bas- sett was in voice contact with the two victims and was assured that everything was all right.
Anderson's missing ski was found, and they were able to ski out. The second hasty search party was stopped yards from the accident site to prevent them further exposure to av- alanche hazard. The main party was stopped Y2 mile from the site. The back-up rescue party was then disbanded, and the ambulance that had been called was canceled.
By , the rescue effort had been completed and sec- ured. Millicent chairlift at Brighton. It has a history of sliding after most new snow- falls. On February 11, the day of the accident, an identical exposure in the ski area was checked by artillery fire at It did not slide. However, estimates of avalanche danger were that the hazard was increasing during the day. Touring was closed on the 11th. The avalanche was a SS-AS-3, approxi - 17 mately yards wide and running about yards slope distance feet vertical.
The fracture line was 2 feet deep for most of the width of the slide. Comments The accident reports do not state whether the two victims had crossed under any closure ropes or passed any closure signs. However, the area was closed to touring. The victims neither checked on avalanche conditions nor notified anyone of their plans. Had they done so, they would have learned of the hazardous conditions and of the closure.
Had Gordon been buried deeper or had he not been able to clear his face so quickly, this avalanche may have taken his life. The good fortune of the snow ranger being an eyewit- ness to the accident made for a quick rescue, had it been needed. Failure to check weather and snow conditions and failure to observe closures are two sure ways of risking one's life in avalanche terrain.
The same storm described in No. The prevailing direction was northwest. Winds diminished on Sunday but were still gusty. Highway All three boys had considerable hiking experience in this area but no formal mountaineering experience. Just before , they reached the summit of Grandeur Peak and built a fire.
After eat- ing, they started down, jumping and playing on the north side of the peak at the head of Pharoahs Glen. Dubbeld dropped his canteen which rolled down the slope, and he slid down after it. After retrieving his canteen he had difficulty climbing back up the slope. He fi- nally called to his friends that he wanted to walk on down and come out the bottom of the canyon.
The other two boys consented and started down the slope. The time was about Dubbeld had gone about 50 feet down the hill; Tom Bills was above him and Dick Bills was another 50 feet farther below him. Sud- denly Tom Bills shouted "Avalanche!
He was swept downhill and into a large pine tree, holding tightly onto a branch until the snow stopped moving. When the slide was over, Dubbeld found himself buried to the waist and still clinging to the tree. He was able to dig himself out while Tom, who had re- mained above the slide, worked his way down the slope.
There was no sign of Dick. After a quick search of the area, Dubbeld left the slide site and headed down a northwest ridge to U. Tom Bills remained at the scene searching for his brother. Rescue At about , Dubbeld reached the high- way and flagged down a motorist. The Sheriff's office in turn notified the Brigh- ton and Alta ski areas.
Ski partolmen and Forest Service personnel began heading for the Eastwood School, where a base for the re- scue operation was established. A helicopter was called to transport the rescuers to the slide scene. The first rescuers were flown to the scene at The helicopter continued to take re- scuers in by two's until there were 42 at the site.
Probes, shovels, and other supplies were flown in with the rescuers. Because of the size of the rescue party, there was considerable confusion in coordinating the rescue effort. In addition, the rescuers did not know how many victims they were searching for or where to search for them.
The sole eyewitness, Dub- beld, was flown in the helicopter over the slide area to determine the places where he had last seen his companions. By this time, Tom Bills who had remained at the accident scene, could not be found. Because Dubbeld was not closely interrogated by the rescue party leader, the rescuers did not know whether there were one or two buried victims or whether Tom had also walked away from the scene.
The rescuers began by probing deep de- position areas and by setting up a coarse probe line at the toe of the debris. Footprints were seen going down Pharoahs Glen below the toe of the slide. Some of the rescuers thought these tracks should be followed, but the deci- sion was made to continue probing. The probe line had moved about feet up from the toe of the debris when the body of Dick Bills was found approximately 6 feet under the snow; he was lying in a prone position, head downhill.
The boy's scout pack was on top of his head with both straps still on his shoulders. The entire body was encased in an ice mask, a little heavier thickness around the face, but the opinion of the rescue group was that the boy was unconscious when he came to a stop.
It was apparent he was bleeding slightly from either the nose or mouth, or both. The snow was removed from around the body with fire shovels. The snow was too hard for the aluminum snow shovels to penetrate to any degree. Approximate evaluation of survi- val time was no longer than 30 minutes. The victim's right arm could be straightened out, but the left arm could not— it remained in a bent position.
While the probe line was searching for this buried victim, a report was issued over the radio that the other missing boy, Tom Bills, had been found safe on the ridge. This report was false, and no explanation for the error could be found. Fortunately, this report did not reach several of the rescuers who had become curious about the footprints leading down Pharoahs Glen.
Six men began following the footprints. About 3 A of a mile below the toe of the slide debris, a hat and then a pair of socks belonging to Tom were found. Sixty feet from where the hat was found, Tom was found lying on his back in the snow. He was not breathing, and there was no heartbeat. Mouth-to-mouth re- suscitation was given but to no avail. Tom Bills had died a victim of shock and hypothermia. The bodies of both victims were flown out by helicopter at about Rescue operations were ceased at this time, and the main rescue party began walking out via Pharoahs Glen to U.
The last rescuer was checked in at the base camp at on Monday morning, Feb- ruary Avalanche Data The slide was a soft-slab avalanche start- ing at an elevation of feet and running to feet, a vertical drop of feet. The width was feet at the starting zone and to feet in the runout gully. The fracture line was only 4 inches — 4 inches of soft slab that had been deposited on a one-inch-thick layer of graupel. It slid approximately yards on this surface and then started to break away underneath.
At about yards, it dug right down to the ground level. A snow pit showed 8 inches of depth hoar right at the ground. In addition, the ground cover con- sisted of long grass bent downhill. The combi- nation of the hoar and the grass provided a slick running surface.
There was a 5-foot snow cover in the starting zone and track. Rescuers found a lot of evidence of avalanches in past years: shrubbery and trees were very sparse, and those in the slide path were markedly scarred up. Comments The rescuers erred by not questioning the survivor more closely and by not putting him back on the ground at the slide scene. Had he been brought back to the scene, he could have identified his own tracks leading down the ridge to the highway.
The rescuers would have then known that the tracks leading down the gully below the avalanche debris were those of the other missing boy, Tom Bills. When Tom was found, he had been dead only a very short time. With better information, the rescuers could have begun following his footprints hours earlier. This action might have saved his life. The critical need to obtain all possible in- formation, and the consequences of failure to do so, are evident in this rescue effort.
Appar- ently because of the boy's youth and the feel- ing that he had been through enough already, he was not closely interrogated. In retrospect, it is clear that the information he could have provided was vital to his companion. In addi- tion, given the confusion that existed at the rescue scene, the rescue leader should have taken the initiative much earlier to question the survivor further and to check out the foot- prints.
When all the facts are not known, all possible clues should be investigated thoroughly. This accident was the fourth in a small area of the Wasatch Range in less than a month see Nos. The weather of the last few weeks — either heavy snow, strong winds, or both — kept hazard high by per- petuating slab formation. In back-country areas, a steep, uncontrolled, north-facing slope should always be suspect.
In this case, 20 the evidence of past avalanches was a further sign that this slope was dangerous. The key to eliminating accidents of this nature lies in ed- ucation: the general public needs to be taught avalanche safety techniques and the identifi- cation of dangerous avalanche terrain. A noticeable drop in temperature had occurred shortly before noon as a storm moved into the area, bringing intermittent snow flurries.
Instructors and enrollees of the course met Friday evening, February 17, for 3 hours of instruction on how to recognize signs of avalanche hazard, how to minimize danger, and how to travel through hazardous areas. Instruction was also given on practices to fol- low if caught in an avalanche. The group was scheduled for a practical exercise simulating the rescue of an avalanche victim. During this morning session, the trainees received instruction in snow stratification and in techniques of probing for avalanche vic- tims.
While this was going on, another instruc- tor, John Laffoon, and a local ski patrolman went to Green Canyon, a known avalanche area, where they buried a straw dummy. Laf- foon and his companion buried the dummy in a deep snow deposit. Before leaving the site, the whole area was tested by shovel and skiing with no evidence of instability. After lunch, the entire group assembled at the bottom of the ski hill and awaited the simulated witness report that would mark the start of the exer- cise.
Upon getting the witness report at , a hasty party of 11 people equipped with probe poles was organized and sent to the simulated avalanche area. The hasty party entered the area from the east, above the heavy snow de- posit, arriving at Meanwhile, a main party was being organized at the base area to follow the hasty party. The hasty party flagged a trail into the simulated avalanche area.
One man was posted as avalanche guard. The others probed on the face of the snow deposit and, after a few minutes, found the dummy. Instructor Laf- foon told them to leave it buried so the main party could also carry out the simulated search-and-rescue exercise. While the hasty party had been probing, the avalanche guard discovered a crack in the snow above the group and called this fact down. Immediately, Herman Torrano, one of the probers, climbed to the ridge to check on the crack.
The crack was an old glide crack which had been in evidence for nearly 2 months. It had been observed repeatedly by members of the ski patrol who shovelled and rounded the cornice weekly. By this time, members of the main party were arriving. This party had gathered their equipment and left the top of the chairlift at and arrived at the simulated avalanche area at Art Hendricksen, Skyline Ski Patrol Leader and leader of the entire rescue exercise, was with the main party.
When he arrived at the site, he began organizing the party into crews of five and sent them into the avalanche area to probe for the "victim. Meanwhile, Torrano called instructor Longson over to look at the crack. Longson looked over the edge at the probers below and became alarmed for their safety. He then made the decision to clear the area of all per- sonnel.
He mentioned this to one of the main party but did not have time to relay this decision to leader Hendrickson. At , just minutes after the main party had entered the slope, the snow suddenly fractured above the group. The accident report does not state whether the fracture line coincided with the pre- existing crack. Sixteen members of the group were caught and swept downhill for distances ranging from only 20 feet to more than feet.
A head count was started immediately. The lack of a feminine reply to the head count indi- cated Carolyn Laffoon wife of John Laffoon, one of the instructors was missing, and the fact that John Johnson was known to be in the slide area but couldn't be located identified him as the other victim. While the head count was in progress, those who were caught in the slide were digging themselves out or helping dig out others who had been caught.
The force of the slide left probe poles bent and wrapped around trees. Avalanche cords were being used by members of the followup group but these were broken both by the force of the slide and by being swept through the trees. John Laffoon had his skis on and was standing in the southwest corner of the area when it slid.
One ski was broken on his short downhill ride. Rescue Additional probes, shovels, ropes, and a toboggan had been called for by radio and were on the site or on the way. An avalanche guard was named for the rescue effort, and searchers were sent into the area. A hasty search was conducted with searchers probing likely spots for the two victims, mainly around and under trees.
This search located the first victim, John Johnson. He was buried between 2 and 4 feet deep in the center of a group of saplings. His head was downhill nearly 4 feet under the surface of the avalanche. The snow was so compacted it was difficult to remove it from around his body. He was lying more or less on his right side. Some snow was packed in his eyes, nose and mouth. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation attempts were begun at by Dr.
Jim Sullivan. Closed chest cardiac mas- sage was also used throughout these attempts but there was no sign of life. He was pro- nouiced dead at Cause of death was listed as cardio-vascular failure resulting from suffocation. Johnson had no ice mask and there were no signs of attempts to free himself. He was removed from the area by toboggan at by members of the class. The hasty search failed to locate Carolyn Laffoon, so a coarse probe was started.
One coarse probe line was started at the bottom of the slide and another line was organized about feet uphill from the bottom of the slide. After 15 to 20 minutes of probing, the lower probe line located the victim under 5 feet of tightly compacted snow. She was found at and was checked immediately by Dr. Charles Sternhagen. Her body was cold, face was blue, and there was no pulse.
She was pronounced dead at There was a slight ice mask formed by body heat. At this point, all person- nel except those working with the second vic- tim were cleared from the area. The body of Carolyn Laffoon was removed from the scene in a Stokes litter by members of the rescue party. The fracture line was feet wide and varied in depth from 18 to 57 inches.
The slide carried feet down the slope, be- coming wedge-shaped and narrowing to 25 feet wide at the bottom. The slope was a known avalanche path but was an infrequent slider. The snow fractured at an elevation of feet. The slab was a very dense and compacted layer of wind-pack- ed snow. Just below was a soft, cohesionless layer. A test pit had been dug on an adjacent slope at The stratigraphy was evident to the instructors, but they decided there was no immediate slide area. The ridge top above the slope had a low brush cover.
The slide area itself contained numerous trees; these were second-growth subalpine fir with diameters of 3 to 6 inches. Comments The lesson to be learned from this acci- dent is obvious: simulated rescues should not be carried out on a known slide path unless the snow is known to be stable. In this case, three things may have lured the instructors into a false sense of security.
First, even though the crack was present in the snow, some may have felt that, since the slope avalanched only in- frequently and it hadn't failed this winter in spite of the crack, it was safe. Second, the presence of the tree cover may have indicated to those in charge that the slope couldn't slide.
It should be noted that only a dense stand of timber can anchor snow to the slope, and the steeper the slope, the more closely spaced the trees must be. Third, the high-density hard slab found in the snow pit had probably con- vinced the instructors that failure could not occur in spite of the loose snow below. Indeed, the hard slab probably would have supported one or just a few skiers indefinitely.
However, under the combined weight of no fewer than 24 16 skiers, the load was excessive and failure occurred. Hard slab is a more difficult medium to work with than soft slab. The toughness of the slab often gives every indication of stability: test skiing is seldom effective on hard slab. A quick pit should be dug to determine the depth of the slab and what sort of layers lie under- neath. If any doubt exists, explosive control should be used. No explosives were used on this avalanche slope.
This protective measure might have brought down the avalanche, thus revealing the danger and preventing the loss of two lives. Skiers entering the Ballroom are threatened by several chutes that make up the east face. There are three types of hazards. First, the chutes are high- frequency avalanche paths themselves. Sec- ond, cornices form over the chutes and huge cornice blocks when released can travel down the chutes into the Ballroom. The third hazard involves falling cornice blocks which can trigger chute avalanches.
On March 22, , the Alta snow rangers blasted the Baldy cornices. A hard-slab av- alanche HS-AE-3 accompanied the release of these cornices. In the past, one blasting opera- tion per ski season had been sufficient to clear the cornice hazard.
The subsequent weather pattern was uni- que for the Alta area. There were 20 days of precipitation between March 22 and April 21 producing inches of new snow and a water content of 10 inches. The April sun formed crusts rapidly during the day. The precipita- tion was ushered in by strong westerly winds, and the Baldy cornices were rebuilt to a hazard level. Six avalanches, ranging in size from 2 to 4, fell from Mt. Baldy in this period. Accident Summary At on April 21, the Alta snow rangers were advised by their supervisor stationed in Salt Lake City that he was coming up to direct the blasting operation of the re-formed Baldy cornice.
Because of an unfavorable mountain weather forecast, the snow rangers expressed some reluctance to go on the mission but even- tually consented when pressed by their superior. At the mm pack howitzer was rolled out of the Forest Service garage, and four shells were fired below the cornices on the east face of Baldy. No slides occurred; the regions below the cornices were judged to be stable.
At a party of four men began the mission. They left the top of the Ger- mania lift and climbed to the summit of Mt. They carried dynamite for 35 blast holes, a hole driller, and a Forest Service radio for communication with the Germania lift foreman.
The summit was reached at about A decision was made to keep the Ball- room open while the cornice was being pre- pared for blasting. The ski run would be closed when the charges were ready. Perla was instructed to move on a dril- ling line within 6 feet of the edge of the cornice and to drill 7-foot-deep holes spaced 9 feet apart. He noted that his drill was puncturing through the cornice, and he could see light through the hole.
This was mentioned to Lind- quist, but his only reply was that this happens occasionally in cornice drilling. This was Berry's first attempt at belaying; he was very inexperienced. The predicted bad weather moved in; the workers' toes and fingers became cold. To speed up the operation, Lindquist was belayed by Sandahl and joined Perla on the cornice.
Sandahl was an experienced mountaineer and belayer. Berry, affected by the cold, went into a standing belay position. Perla had drilled 23 of the 45 planned holes; Lindquist, following on the cornice, had filled these holes with dyna- mite. The time was , and Perla was dril- ling his 24th hole while Lindquist was tying prima cord to the 23rd hole's charge.
Perla and Lindquist had by now moved to a precarious position for their present belay. Suddenly, the cornice collapsed! The fracture ran along the line of drill holes. Perla and Lindquist were straddling the drill holes 26 and went down with the cornice. Lindquist's belay held, and he was left dangling at the lip of the cornice. Perla's belay did not hold, and he fell along with the cornice into one of the larger Baldy chutes. The chute fractured and a size 5 hard-slab avalanche poured down on the Ballroom.
Several skiers were in the Ballroom at this time. He was sent on an incredible foot ride. For the three others in the group, the rope snapping was a fortunate oc- currence; the belay ers were being pulled to- ward the brink, and the whole party would have fallen into the chute. Perla describes his experience: "The cor- nice broke, and I waited for the belay to hold. It didn't, and I was in the chute. There were strong pressures against my body. The rope broke, and I was on my way.
I knew it was a large avalanche. I tried to make swimming motions. The force of the snow against my face closed my eyes.
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