Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2004-01-01
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Castle Peak, North of Donner Summit
State: CA
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 skier caught, buried, and killed

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Rescue workers find body of Joseph Gashler

Susan Voyles

RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL

1/5/2004 11:44 pm

Using long poles to probe, rescue workers Monday found the body of a California cross-country skier who was swept away and buried in an avalanche west of Truckee on New Year?s Day.

Working in a tight line Monday morning, 22 pole workers found Joseph ?Drew? Gashler?s body at the bottom of the field of broken ice and snow north of the Boreal Ridge Ski Resort, said Sgt. Joe Salivar, search commander for the Nevada County Sheriff?s Office.

The three-day search began Saturday near Castle Peak, about 10 miles west of Truckee. Rescuers initially found Gashler?s glove and a ski skin in the middle of an avalanche field, where workers and their dogs concentrated the search for two days.

Gashler, 37, of Pacific Grove, Calif., supervised the use of remote-controlled submarines used for deep-sea research at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, according to the Monterey County Herald newspaper.

?I would have been proud to be his father, Steve Etchemendy, his supervisor at the institute, told the newspaper. ?He was taking the initiative and helping to create a new kind of science.?

He was also a long-distance runner, a guitarist, a Peace Corps worker in Tonga and a high school science teacher. ?Someone really raised him right,? Etchemendy said.

More than 120 people were involved in the search that began Saturday afternoon. Gashler?s companion holed up in a cabin for two days and then stumbled into two other cross-country skiers who had a cell phone he used to call for help.

The search effort was massive: Boreal Ridge Ski Resort provided a grooming machine to carve a road through the snow to the top of a ridge where snowcats, snowmobiles and people on skis and snowshoes could get to the avalanche area. A Nevada Highway Patrol helicopter also searched the area.

Gashler and his friend from San Jose, who did not want to be named, had just broken camp New Year?s Day morning and were heading off to the Peter Grubb Hut to wait out the storm, Salivar said.

In a whiteout blizzard, Salivar said the two men had unknowingly walked under a snow cornice. When they finally spotted the snowy overhang, they tried to get away as fast as they could. But it was too late. With the high winds, the cornice collapsed, setting off the avalanche.

Gashler?s friend, whom the Herald reported as a former classmate at Stanford University, last saw his friend 30-40 yards ahead of him in the moving snow before he disappeared, Salivar said.

Rescue workers found Gashler?s body against a tree under four to five feet of snow and ice.

?We are assuming he hit the tree pretty hard,? Salivar said. ?We are assuming he wasn?t suffering. It?s highly possible he was knocked unconscious. It?s safe to say the elements overcame him.?

Gashler?s body was found about 40-50 yards from where his companion was buried waist-deep in the avalanche, Salivar said.

?He tried to find him. But Gashler?s avalanche beacon wasn?t working,? Salivar said.

?He had just dug himself out, he was exhausted. He had no clue where his friend was. His biggest concern, and rightly so, was his survival,? he said.

The skiing companion stayed in the hut Thursday and Friday nights while another two to three feet of snow piled up. He started hiking out of the wilderness Saturday after the storm broke.

Eighteen inches of snow fell New Year?s Day, said Gary Murphy, avalanche forecaster at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort near Lake Tahoe.

?We had 90 mph average winds,? Murphy said. ?We had peak gusts of 128 mph. There was a lot of loading of snow. That loading creates slabs. Those slab avalanches can be skier triggered or naturally triggered.?

?When you have that intense of activity, you are going to have avalanches in steep terrain,? Murphy said.

The U.S. Forest Service is warning backcountry skiers to approach steep gullies and open mountain faces with caution, especially above 8,000 feet.

Helping with the rescue were Nevada and Placer counties sheriff?s staffs, ski patrols and rescue groups including Tahoe Nordic, Tahoe National Forest, Squaw Valley and Boreal Ridge and Truckee police and firefighters and Donner Summit firefighters.

01/05/04

Search Continues for Skier Buried in Avalanche

Truckee, CA

Associated Press

Heavy snow hampered authorities Sunday in their search for a cross-country skier buried in

an avalanche north of Lake Tahoe.

On Tahoe's south shore, a cell phone was credited for saving the life of a snowboarder

trapped in an avalanche near the Heavenly ski resort.

Nevada County sheriff's deputies said the search for the missing skier was complicated by 2-3

feet of new snow since Thursday's avalanche in a remote, rugged area west of Truckee and

north of Donner Summit.

Searchers were having difficulty finding the avalanche's precise path because of all the

snow, deputies said.

Experts said avalanche victims have only a remote chance of surviving if found just 30 minutes

later.

"It's not a search for a live person. I would just think it's recovery of a body," said Doug Read

of the Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue Team.

Deputies said the missing skier was from Pacific Grove, but didn't release his name or other

details about him.

A companion escaped without injury, but could not call authorities until Saturday afternoon

because a blizzard and heavy snow prevented him from getting out of the backcountry.

Deputies said the companion spent two nights at a backcountry hut near Castle Peak. He was

provided a cell phone by another group of skiers to call for help.

Searchers used snowmobiles to get to the avalanche about three miles north of Interstate 80 in

the Tahoe National Forest.

To the south, snowboarder Steven Peck, 30, of South Lake Tahoe, was rescued at 10 p.m.

Saturday, about five hours after being trapped in an avalanche near Heavenly.

Peck had been snowboarding in an out-of-bounds area of the resort when he was swept

down a chute by an avalanche, said Shaun Thomas, operations leader of the Douglas County,

Nev., Search and Rescue Team.

He used his cell phone to call 911, and a search began a short time later. He was found

unharmed in 5 feet of snow.

Peck faces a $635 fine for boarding out of bounds, Thomas told the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Read said the avalanches are a reminder of the backcountry's potential danger after heavy

snow.

"People are in areas where they shouldn't be," he said. "During and right after a major storm

you have to be very careful."

A U.S. Forest Service avalanche advisory remains in effect in the Sierra backcountry above

6,000 feet between Sonora and Yuba passes.

In separate searches, two groups of skiers and snowboarders were found Saturday morning

after spending a frigid night in the Sierra.