Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2003-03-22
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: North of Burro Peak and south of Bear Creek
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and killed




Snowmobiler caught in avalanche identified

March 25, 2003

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

Cortez Journal

Lee Austin, a 22-year-old man from Mancos, was the snowmobiler who died after an avalanche buried him Saturday afternoon, according to authorities.

Austin was snowmobiling with eight other people at 1 p.m. Saturday, north of Burro Peak and 14 miles south of Rico in the La Plata Mountains, according to the Montezuma County Sheriff?s Office. The group was on a north-facing slope at an elevation of about 10,900 feet when an avalanche about 800 feet long swept down the mountain, trapping Austin.

An avalanche on the north side of Burro Mountain in the La Plata Mountains killed Lee Austin, a 22-year-old Mancos man, on Saturday afternoon.

Another person tried to find Austin but could not reach him, said Montezuma County Sheriff Joey Chavez. A woman in the party called 911, and about 40 rescuers, two search dogs and a helicopter crew from San Miguel and Montezuma counties responded.

Rescuers discovered Austin?s body beneath 5 feet of snow at 2:45 p.m. They attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but Austin was pronounced dead at 4:45 p.m.

None of the nine snowmobilers was carrying avalanche equipment, said Tom Sharp, the Heli-Trax helicopter pilot.

Six people have died in avalanches in Colorado this winter.

Mancos Fire and Rescue, United Search and Rescue, K-9 Search and Rescue, San Miguel County Search and Rescue and Heli-Trax, a helicopter ski company from the Telluride area, helped in the search.

Avalanche kills man in La Plata Mountains

March 23, 2003

By Jennifer Kostka

Herald Staff Writer

An avalanche in the La Plata Mountains, north of Mancos, killed a snowmobiler from Montezuma County on Saturday.

A man in his 20s was snowmobiling with about five friends Saturday at 1 p.m. when an avalanche buried him in an area north of Burro Peak and south of Bear Creek, said Montezuma County Undersheriff Sam Hager. Authorities were waiting to release the man?s name until they contacted his family.

One of the man?s friends called 911 on a cell phone at 1:09 p.m., and as many as 40 rescuers, a rescue dog and a helicopter from Montezuma and San Miguel counties responded.

Rescuers located the man at 2:45 p.m., an hour and 45 minutes after the avalanche, but he did not have a pulse. Rescuers could not revive him with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Hager said.

The avalanche was probably human-triggered, because winds of 25 mph in the La Plata Mountains on Saturday morning blew snow onto other slopes to create an unstable snowpack, said Andy Gleason, avalanche forecaster with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center in Silverton.

The wind?s effects on the snowpack, also known as "wind-loading," make it easier for people to trigger avalanches, especially people on snowmobiles, Gleason said.

The avalanche danger for the southern Colorado mountains, including the La Plata Mountains, is low to moderate with considerable avalanche danger in spots, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The center recommends people be cautious on steep slopes in the backcountry during moderate to considerable avalanche danger.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center in Boulder canceled its avalanche warning for the Front Range on Saturday. The center issued the warning Tuesday, and 154 avalanches have been reported on the Front Range since then. Avalanches covered roads and buried two houses after 11 feet of snow fell in three days in some areas on the Front Range.

United Search and Rescue, Canine Search and Rescue, and Mancos Rescue in Montezuma County, and San Miguel County Search and Rescue took part in the search.

Reach Staff Writer Jennifer Kostka at