Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: Alaska Mountain Safety Center; D. Fesler
Place: Aaron's Last Run, Turnagain Pass
Summary: 1 Skier caught, carried, and buried. Rescued alive by own group.
Skier makes it through a wild ride RESCUE: Deadly area remains a lure for outdoor recreationists.
By Jon Little Anchorage Daily News
(Published January 3, 2001)
Rescuers dug a buried skier -- bruised, cold but alive -- from a snow slide in Turnagain Pass on Monday. Alaska State
Troopers identified the skier as Michael McKinney, 31, of Fairbanks. "This guy is very, very lucky to have wound up
coming out of this thing alive," said Doug Fesler, avalanche hazard consultant for the Alaska Mountain Safety Center.
Monday's slide was 100 to 300 yards wide and carried McKinney perhaps 1,000 feet down the steep slope, where it
settled into a 15-foot-deep debris field, Fesler said. The slide let go about 3 p.m. and ran down the same chute, on the west
side of the Seward Highway, where a massive avalanche in March 1999 killed six snowmachiners, Fesler said. The place
is nicknamed Aaron's Last Run, after Aaron Arthur,one of those victims.
Information about the accident was sketchy Tuesday because McKinney was out and OK by the time troopers arrived at the
scene. No official report was filed. But it appears, from eyewitness accounts and the troopers, that McKinney and a buddy,
whose name could not be confirmed, had parked their snowmachines and opted to ski and snowboard down the face.
One of the people who found McKinney, snowmachiner Chris Perez of Anchorage, was atop the ridge at the time. "They
jumped over edge to go and that's when the mountain broke loose. It took the skier with it," he said. The slide missed
McKinney's partner. He told others that he lost sight of McKinney in the white-out blur of the avalanche, then boarded
down the slope to find his friend.
Perez said a child who had watched the slide from below flagged him down -- along with his brother Tony and another
snowmachiner who had all ridden down to help -- and directed him toward the avalanche pile.
McKinney and his partner were wearing electronic beacons. His partner had switched his beacon on to locate the missing
skier when the others arrived, Perez said. The snowmachiners joined in the search. They spread out in a line and soon
heard McKinney's voice rising from the snow.
"He was saying 'Help me God, please save me, somebody find me,' " Perez said. "Just his mouth was sticking out and his
one hand." The searchers dug him out of the hard, chunky debris with their avalanche shovels. "He was pretty bruised up,
his ribs were bruised and scraped and his face was cut up. He was pretty scared, shaken," Perez said. McKinney was also
cold and mildly hypothermic, so they got him into some warm clothes that he'd brought along in his backpack.
The notorious slide chute, a steep tundra slope, starts at 2,700 feet and descends to the 1,000-foot valley. It has a tell-tale
convex bulb at its top, and avalanches such as Monday's frequently begin just below that point, Fesler said. As dangerous a
spot as it is, the ridge is an attractive perch for snowmachiners and skiers. A snowmachine trail leads up to the top; from
there, skiers can plunge into the bowl. "It's about the most dangerous thing you can do unless you know the stability of the
snow," Fesler said. "If you don't, it's purely Russian roulette."
Fesler and troopers said that snowmachiners, snowboarders and skiers may not recognize the avalanche because of the
abnormally low snow levels at lower elevations. "That's a huge problem right now, because there is a lot of snow up above
600 feet," said Trooper Sgt. Lee Oly in Girdwood.
Reporter Jon Little can be reached at email@example.com or at 907-260-5248.