Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 1999-03-06
Submitted By: Jonathan Klein/Madison Ranger District
Place: Arasta Creek, in the Gravelly Range
State: MT
Country: USA
Summary: 2 snowmobilers caught, 1 buried, blue, and very lucky

On Saturday, March 6, a group of snowmobilers were highmarking in the Arasta Creek drainage of the north Gravelly Range.? At 11:45 a.m. one rider headed up the 35 degree east facing slope and returned safely to the base of the hill.?Then two others started up, one after the other.? As the lead rider reached his turn around point he felt the `ground` begin to shake like an earthquake and chunks of snow statrted rising up all around.? Realizing he had triggered an avalance, this first rider completed a turn and tried to angle across and down to the? north edge of the slide.? The people at the toe of the slope watched as he was bounced off this machine and disappeared under the snow momentarily before popping out, 100 yards below, and `swimming` to the edge.? No one to this point had watched the other rider on the slope.? With the first rider safe, they turned to look for the second and saw him and his machine disappear near a small group of trees about 100 yards directly up from their position. The second rider, a 21 year old male from Ennis, was not seen again as the snow continued to slide.? When the avalanche stopped, the six searchers hurried up to the trees, the last seen spot.? They had no avalanche transceivers and only two shovels.? Those without shovels began digging in the snow with their hands.

One of these hand diggers, returned to her snowmobile to get a pair of gloves and as she started back up the hill, noticed a piece of curved metal sticking out of the snow about two inches, at the toe of the slide and at least 100 yards below the last seen point.? It was the ski of a snowmobile.? All searchers then hurried to that spot.? One grabbed a small stick and probed, striking the buried victem's leg.? They dug and pulled the young man from the snow.? He had been buried for twenty minutes in a head down position, about 3.5 feet deep.? He was still on the snowmobile.? He as blue, and rescuers cleared his mouth and gave him a couple of CPR breaths.? He began breathing immediately on his own.??

I investigated the site about two hours after the incident.? The slide was about 200 yards across and slid 300 feet.? The crown was at least 15' high on the south side where the slope was heavily wind loaded.? On the north side, the crown was 2' high.? There were huge chunks of snow, the size of washers, dryers and even refridgerators, in the debris pile from the wind loaded slab.? I looked at the slide interface and found very large faceted crystals, 1/8 to 1/4" in size.? Pulling out a fist full was like holding good sized diamonds.? There was no bonding at all.? The avalanche slid to the ground in places.? It was a relative large slide, and we are very lucky no one was killed.

Luck played a bigger part in this avalanche than it should have. First, these snowmobilers were not adequately prepared.? They had no beacons, no probes, and only two shovels (which is better than none and probably saved the victem's life).? They were playing on a slope that was obviously "pregnant" with snow, and they broke two cardinal rules of safe snowmobiling;? 'Only one rider on a slope at a time', and 'Never ride above your partner'.?

This story had a happy ending, when it could have just had an ending. One thing of interest I neglected to mention is that the riders involved had climbed that slope forty times before the avalanche released.

Jonathan Klein/Madison Ranger District