Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: Jonathan Klein, Madison Ranger District
Place: Arasta Creek, Gravelly Mountain Range
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and rescued wearing a transciever
Avalanche and near fatality in the North Gravelly Range
DATE: Saturday (1/26/02).
On January 26, at 12:30 p.m. one rider in a group of several snowmobilers got stuck on a small east facing slope in Arasta Creek (a popular play area fraught with wind loaded leeward slopes) south of Virginia City, Montana in the Gravelly Mountain Range. The slope was only about 50-70 feet high. Elevation was @8000'. The victim parked his snowmachine at the base of the slope on one
inch of snow, (yes, one inch) and walked up to help pull. He decided to park and walk instead of ride because he was tired of getting stuck (weakness in the snowpack perhaps?). Another rider parked his snowmachine just above the victim's and walked up to also lend a hand. The three men quickly freed the mired machine and had just started to return when the slope gave way. The mounted rider easily rode off, and the other pedestrian had no trouble walking off, but the victim was knocked down. He was carried 10' - 20' with the avalanche and swept into the upper of the two parked snowmobiles. He and the snowmobile were transported another 5' to 10' at which point the snowmobile wedged between some aspens. The snowmobile now acted like a dam. Snow built up behind and washed over the sled, burying it and the victim under about three feet of snow.
The entire avalanche area was only 1000 - 1500 square feet. About six inches of snow slid.
The victim had attended an avalanche awareness course in 2001, and had purchased himself a beacon as a Christmas present.
Not all rescuers on scene had avalanche transceivers, but one of them had attended our avalanche awareness class in 2001. He watched as the victim was swept into the machine and knew within a fifty or so square foot area where he was buried. He turned his beacon and quickly located the strongest signal. Others started digging and probing above this spot and the victim was located slightly below and under the snowmobile.
Even with this little slide and knowing the victim's general location, it took ten minutes to get him an airway. By this time he was cyanotic (had the blues), not breathing, and unconscious. The victim did not have his helmet on and apparently had no air pocket. After rescuers swept his mouth, he began breathing on his own. A fire was built and after 90 minutes the victim
revived and became alert and aware of what had happened. The last thing
he remembered before waking up was someone yelling "There it goes!"
There are some good lessons to be learned from this incident. HAVE RESCUE EQUIPMENT AND HAVE IT WITH YOU, NOT ON THE MACHINE. The rescuer who quickly located the victim did not have his shovel or probe available. These items were buried with his snowmobile. Another rescuer who carried his shovel under the cowling of his machine found the shovel frozen, and the shovel head snapped off the shaft as he tried to remove it. Others, without shovels, tried but could not dig in the avalanche debris either with hands or helmets. Even those who had taken our avalanche course were in shock and found themselves slow to respond, i.e. forgetting to turn off their beacons. Cheap probes could not penetrate the avalanche debris.
There is a sudden resurgence of interest in avalanche behavior, and calls coming in on what kind of beacons to buy.
Fortunately this incident had a happy ending, rather than an ending.
Madison Ranger District