Detailed Accident Report

Back to accidents page

Date: 2000-02-19
Submitted By: Mike Jenkins, UAFC; Logan, UT Office
Place: St. Charles Canyon, near Bear Lake
State: ID
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 2 snowmobilers caught, 1 buried and killed

Submitted by Mike Jenkins - Logan branch of the Utah Avalanche Forecast Center

At the request of the Bear Lake Co. Sheriff and the USFS, Montpelier Ranger District, Caribou National Forest I served as accident site commander to recover the body of a snow mobilier killed Saturday Feb. 19, 2000. The accident occurred at 1340 in the Middle Fork of St. Charles Canyon west of the town of St. Charles, ID. Two snow mobiliers had been high marking a narrow gully below a steep wind loaded bowl when one of them became stuck near the top of the track below the starting zone. His partner rode to help him and observed the slide release and saw his friend try to swim with the snow. The survivor turned his sled and gave it full throttle to speeds he estimated to be 80 mph and narrowly outran the slide. They had no beacons, shovels nor probes. The survivor searched using a tree limb for about 15 minutes before leaving the scene and contacting the Bear Lake Co. Sheriff's office. Confusion over the exact location and difficulty getting rescuers back to site limited rescue efforts. The site was randomly probed by about 30 people until the search was called off for the day. We reorganized the search on Sunday Feb. 20 using 5 search dog teams and several strike teams of probers.

EMS helicopters from Bannock Co. and Pocatello, ID transported me to the site for recon and stability evaluation. An LZ was established and I took the survivor to identify the point last seen. A preliminary search yielded no additonal clues, but his helmut and jacket found the day before were flagged. Search dog teams and probers were deployed and in less than one hour the body was recovered at the toe of the slide under 6 feet of snow. The body was face down, head downhill, arms and legs outstretched as if swimming.The snow machine was not located.

The avalanche was HS AO 4 O running on a rain crust formed on January 19. Crown depth was 2-4'and was approximately 100 yards long. The starting zone narrowed quickly into a gully and dog legged to the left in the run out. The slide released on a 37 degree east facing slope at 9200'and ran to 8600'. We had received about 4' of new snow during the previous 9 days and had a significant wind episode 5 days previously with hourly averages over 30 mph and gusts to near 100 mph from the WSW. Our advisory for the day of the accident warned of the lingering threat of unpredictable hard slabs.