Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2000-04-08
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Summit Lake, north of Paxson
State: AK
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught buried and killed

From the Anchorage Daily News

Body of avalanche victim found

Fairbanks man killed after highmarking near Arctic Man competition

By DOUG O'HARRA Daily News reporter

Searchers early Sunday morning found the body of a recreational snowmachiner who was buried and killed

in a weekend avalanche about two miles from the Arctic Man Ski & Sno Go Classic. Alaska State

Troopers identified the victim as Walter J. Coty III, 43, of Fairbanks. Searchers found his body using

trained dogs and avalanche probes.

Coty's body was found under about 41/2 feet of snow, lying face up, about 40 feet downhill from where his

helmet was found after the slide hit him about 1 p.m. Saturday, said trooper Sgt. Paul Burke. His body was

flown to Fairbanks in a trooper helicopter Sunday morning.

Coty was among an estimated 15,000 to 18,000 people who had gone to the Summit Lake area north of

Paxson to watch the annual snowmachine-ski race, camp out, explore the mountains and generally play on

snowmachines.The avalanche occurred in a bowl in the mountains several miles from the groomed race


Troopers said Coty had been caught in an avalanche earlier the same day while trying to highmark in the

bowl. The practice, which has figured in several snowmachine deaths in recent years, involves

snowmachiners trying to drive as high as possible on slopes, Burke said. Coty pulled himself out of that

one, but troopers asked him to carry an avalanche beacon if he was going to continue.

Coty was reportedly camping off the Richardson Highway near the Arctic Man gathering with a large group

of family members and friends. He was an experienced snowmachiner who often rode in the area, said

Arctic Man race organizer Howard Thies.

Away from the race corridor and the rolling hills crisscrossed with thousands of tracks, people had

reported seeing several dozen avalanches Saturday on steep, unstable slopes as the sun baked the area.

Troopers and Arctic Man organizers had been urging the recreational snowmachiners to stay off the steep

slopes all day Saturday.

Though thousands of people cruised the flats and hills, Burke expressed frustration that a few people

ignored the message, their tracks visible on avalanche chutes and extreme slopes overlooking the valley.

"Highmarking was the activity," he said. "It's pretty amazing where they go. "How many of these things have

we been on?" he added, talking about the search. "It's the same conditions, the same thing. You'd think

people would have more prudence."

The avalanche was composed of a slab of wind-deposited snow on an ice crust resting on a layer of weak,

temperature-altered snow, said avalanche expert Jill Fredston, who went to the area from Anchorage to

analyze the scene and help find the victim. The slab ranged from 10 inches to 51/2 feet thick. It had slid on

a slope ranging from 27 degrees to 35 degrees - a relatively moderate angle.

"The biggest clue available were the numerous slides in the area," she said. "It's a very sensitive snowpack

now, both in Thompson Pass and here."Troopers had called off a search Saturday evening, awaiting

Fredston's analysis of additional danger.

Two Alaska Search and Rescue Group dogs, an Australian shepherd named Chili and a yellow Lab named

Bean, arrived after a drive from Anchorage with owners Paul Brusseau and Corey Aist. Once on the

avalanche debris, Chili found the victim quickly, Brusseau said, trying to dig in the snow.

Bean confirmed the location by also trying to dig, and searchers found the body with probes about 8:30 a.m.

"We kind of figured out what we thought would be the best place to start," Brusseau said. "We got a pretty

good alert pretty fast."

Coty's was the second snowmachine death of the weekend near the sports event. Friday night, Craig

Demoski, 26, of Fairbanks was killed after driving his Arctic Cat machine into a parked trailer at Mile 1.1

of Arctic Man road. Troopers said it appeared he was moving with excessive speed.

From the Anchorage Daily News