Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2000-02-20
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Mount Washington; Gulf of Slides Area
State: NH
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 2 skiers caught, 1 buried and killed

Mount Washington avalanche kills Maine teacher


Staff Writers

A popular Maine high school teacher was killed in an avalanche on Mount Washington

yesterday as he and his companion were strapping on their skis near the top of a steep

gully in the Gulf of Slides.

David McPhedran, 42, an avid outdoorsman from Kents Hill, Maine, was pronounced

dead at the Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin yesterday afternoon, authorities said.

His girlfriend, Aimee Reiter, 27, who taught at the same school in Readfield, Maine,

was buried in the avalanche, but managed to free herself and McPhedran, then fought

unsuccessfully to save his life.

"Aimee was buried waist deep and David was buried face down. Aimee was able dig

herself out and went up and located David. She uncovered him and found that he was

breathless and pulseless. She began CPR," said Fish and Game Lt. Martin Garabedian.

Reiter, also of Kents Hill, Maine, wasn?t injured in the avalanche that happened at

12:45 p.m. yesterday. "There was another individual in the general area who came upon

them and hiked down to the AMC visitor?s center for help," Garabedian said.

Garabedian met with family members at the Berlin hospital after more than a dozen

rescuers carried McPhedran off the mountain. "(Aimee) was very distraught over the

whole situation," Garabedian said.

He said he didn?t believe the couple saw the posted avalanche warnings and they didn?t

sign in yesterday morning at the Appalachian Mountain Club visitor?s center in Pinkham

Notch as suggested for winter hikers.

Both Reiter and McPhedran taught at Maranacook Community School in Readfield, a

school with 795 students in grades 7 to 12 from four towns.

"He?s probably one of our most popular teachers," principal David Wing said last night.

"He really cared about the school."

McPhedran ran the winter carnival, served as president of the teachers union and was

adviser to the student senate.

"Just involved in everything," the principal said.

"He just really is embedded in the school and community," Wing said. "He was always

involved in things. . . Just really part of the fabric in the school."

McPhedran was a works-studies teacher working with students in grades 9-12. "He

showed them the world of work," Wing said.

McPhedran worked with students volunteering in the community. "They served

Christmas dinner at a senior center" in a neighboring town, Wing said.

Reiter is in her first year at the school, teaching language arts to seventh- and


McPhedran was an "avid skier, outdoors person," Wing said.

Students are on vacation until Feb. 28. Counselors will be available today to talk to


McPhedran also was noted for ice sailboating

The Gulf of Slides, located south of Tuckerman?s Ravine on the northeast face of

Mount Washington, was the site of several avalanches yesterday morning, Garabedian


"In terms of whether they (McPhedran and Reiter) caused the avalanche, I?m not sure.

It did begin above them. The whole gully let go," he said.

The debris field in the wake of the avalanche was 350 to 400 feet long, 50-feet wide

with a depth of from 5 to 8 feet, Garabedian said.

He said McPhedran and Reiter knew of the avalanche danger when they entered the

main part of Gulf of Slides yesterday after digging a test pit.

"They found the snow was unstable and went to a gully to the side. They were putting

on their skis when the avalanche occurred," Garabedian said.

Fish and Game Col. Ron Alie described an avalanche: "Underneath that new snow is

harder packed snow. When you go up onto it, it slips on the surface of the harder

packed snow. Once it starts, it gains speed until it goes all the way to the bottom."

He said the avalanche conditions are rated high and travel in avalanche country is not


"When avalanche conditions are that high people are at extreme risk to go in there.

Nobody should be in an area right now where you have high avalanche potential and

certainly there is real high propensity at this point," Alie said.

Alie said two Massachusetts ice climbers both survived being swept 300 feet in an

avalanche Monday. The avalanche occurred in Dixville Notch where Thomas Brooks,

54, of Mashpee, Mass., and Nancy Flannery, 41, of Pocasset, Mass., were climbing in

the notch located between Colebrook and Errol.

Mount Washington, the 6,288-foot mountain is known as home to the world?s worst

weather and was the site of the highest windspeed ever recorded ? 231 mph on April

12, 1934.

Alie said the likelihood of avalanches across New Hampshire?s White Mountains is very

high, and officials have recommended hikers and skiers stay away from the most

dangerous areas.

Anna Porter, a weather observer at the Mount Washington Observatory, said the wind

was blowing at 58 mph at the summit yesterday afternoon, with gusts of up to 64 mph.

Visibility was 1/16 of a mile with blowing snow and freezing fog, she said, and the summit

temperature was 3 degrees.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

2 Die in Northeast Avalanches

By J.M. HIRSCH Associated Press Writer

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - An avalanche on New England's highest peak smothered a skier Sunday, one day after a different avalanche killed a skier in upstate New York.

David McPhedran of Kents Hill, Maine, and a friend were skiing in an area of Mount Washington called the Gulf of Slides when the avalanche hit about 1 p.m.. Only Aimee Reiter survived, said Col. Ron Alie of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

"They decided to climb up one of the gullies to ski down it and caused the avalanche, which swept them down the gully," Alie said. "She was buried waist-deep, but David was buried face down." Reiter, also of Kents Hill, climbed out and uncovered McPhedran, 42, but was unable to save him, Alie said. With heavy snowfall and rough weather conditions, Mount Washington is one of the few places in the East where avalanches are a danger. During the last century, 126 people have died there. Anna Porter, a weather observer at the Mount Washington Observatory, said wind gusts reached 64 mph at the summit Sunday afternoon. Visibility was one-sixteenth of a mile with blowing snow and freezing fog, she said. The 6,288-foot mountain is known as home to some of the world's worst weather and was the site of the highest wind speed ever recorded - 231 mph on April 12, 1934.

A recorded message at the Appalachian Mountain Club on Sunday morning warned that the avalanche danger for the mountain's Tuckerman and Huntington ravines was high and that traveling on them was not recommended. The club said the danger is due, in part, to more than a foot of snow that fell Friday night and Saturday and to the high winds.

On Saturday, a rare avalanche in northern New York's Adirondacks killed Toma Jacob Vracarich, 27, of Lake Placid, N.Y., and injured five other skiers. The avalanche occurred off-trail on the northeast side of Wright Peak, on the outskirts of Lake Placid. One skier in the group described seeing fracture lines opening in the snow and then hearing a rumble as the skiers were swept down the slope. "It was like being strained through the woods, just like a little pinball being pushed through the woods by a 100-mph force," said Rohan Roy of Chateaugay, N.Y..

Officials in Vermont posted avalanche warnings last week at Smugglers' Notch, popular among skiers, and on Vermont 108, a state highway. "In my 13 years I have never seen anything like this. There are fracture lines all over the place," said Sgt. Butch Patch of the Vermont Army National Guard.