Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 1999-04-16
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Talkeetna Mountains near Cantwell
State: AK
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 7 snowmobilers caught, 3 injured, 1 dead, 6 machines damaged



Avalanche injures four men;

one missing

By PETER PORCO, Anchorage Daily News reporter

A Fairbanks man was left missing and several others

were injured when an avalanche buried a group of

snowmachiners shortly before 4 p.m. Friday in the

Talkeetna Mountains near Cantwell, Alaska State

Troopers said.

Rescuers continued to work Friday evening to dig out

two riders who had serious injuries, troopers said. A

helicopter from Fort Wainwright was standing by to

evacuate the injured men.

Two other men were flown earlier to a clinic in Healy.

They were expected to be treated for minor injuries and

released, said trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson.

Rescuers, including volunteers from Cantwell, were

carefully trying to dig out the two injured men without

causing them further injury, Wilkinson said. Once they

were out, they would be transported to a place where

the helicopter could land and pick them up.

The helicopter's crew was concerned about causing

another slide if it got too close to the area, he said.

The search for the missing snowmachiner would

possibly end for the night once the injured are

evacuated, he said.

"A decision needs to be made tonight, after the injured

are recovered and brought out, about the safety of the

area," Wilkinson said.

The names of the five snowmachiners were not

available.

Avalanche experts from Anchorage were expected to

assess the condition of the slopes on Friday, he said.

The five snowmachiners were traveling with another

group of five to seven riders, Wilkinson said.

The group that was hit by the slide is from Fairbanks,

said Jack Lawson, owner of Cantwell's Reindeer

Mountain Lodge, where they were staying. They come

down to ride in the Cantwell area at least once a year

and rode through the same area last weekend.

"A few of them were completely buried, and a couple of

them got themselves out and started digging the others

out," Lawson said.

"The ones here are limping, bruised up and sore.

"They saw a small slide coming down and the next thing

they knew, it was on top of them, a big one," Lawson

said.

The avalanche happened in Jack River Canyon, about a

dozen miles south of the junction of the Denali and

Parks highways, Lawson said.

The popular "Big Notch in the Mountains" - the canyon's

local name - is part of a 60-mile loop through the

Talkeetna Mountains that begins at the Denali Highway.

The riders pass the Caribou Lakes at Caribou Pass and

come out near Mile 196 of the Parks Highway at Broad

Pass. They then head back to Cantwell along the

highway.

"Generally the trail is on the creek bottom, and you're

normally not in avalanche danger unless you choose to

do some highmarking or go up into the high mountain

draws," said Bob Gilbertson, owner of Backwoods

Lodge, another Cantwell inn where snowmachiners

from Fairbanks and Anchorage stay on weekends.

"I've been in there, and I've seen avalanches on the high

slopes," said Gilbertson, who used to ride

snowmachines and drive dogs through Jack River

Canyon. However, the slides did not reach the bottom,

he added.

But if the snowmachiners were highmarking - driving

hard up the slopes to see how high they could go - that

could lead to disaster, Gilbertson said.

"My immediate reaction is that these people were off

the trail or highmarking or just exploring the high

canyons and draws and just generally screwing around,"

he said. "I've done this same thing up in that canyon - it's

absolutely gorgeous in there, beautiful snowmachining

country.

"But in the wrong time of year, you shouldn't be there."

Gilbertson said that this winter's snowfall has been less

than normal but that it snowed recently.