Detailed Accident Report

Back to accidents page

Date: 2004-03-06
Submitted By: NWAC
Place: Stampede Pass area
State: WA
Country: USA
Summary: Close call for couple of snowmobilers

Date: 3/6/2004

Location: Stampede Pass, WA (Crystal Springs Snow Park)

Activity: Snowmobile (high marking)

Victims: Two snowmobilers caught, one partially buried, second totally buried, both recovered alive by others in area [one recovered alive by probing and visual clue (glove) after 20 minutes (no beacon)]

Injuries: Two injured?minor muscle strains reported

Local News: Monday, March 08, 2004

In 'comfort zone,' snowmobilers forgot safety rules

By Jonathan Martin

Seattle Times staff reporter

The four snowmobilers were so familiar with the terrain they didn't feel the need for precaution Saturday: They brought no beacons and no probes. They didn't check the avalanche report.

"We went out blindly because we were in our comfort zone," said Glenn Cummings, a 45-year-old home builder from Sumner.

A day later, Cummings and his friends were shaking off a near-disaster in Kittitas County, vowing not to be so cavalier about safety next time.

Cummings survived being buried for about 20 minutes Saturday morning after an avalanche south of the Crystal Springs SnoPark near Stampede Pass overwhelmed his snowmobile. A second member of the group was also buried briefly. Both suffered nothing more than sore muscles.

"It's a 1-in-10,000 deal, to survive buried that long," said Fred Slyfield, head of Kittitas County's search-and-rescue team.

With avalanche danger at a season peak, others weren't so lucky. A 29-year-old man from Gold Bar, Snohomish County, Dez Vanassche, died Friday while snowmobiling at another Kittitas County site near Salmon La Sac. And a Washington man was killed in an avalanche while snowmobiling near Sandpoint, Idaho, on Saturday. His identity was not released yesterday.

According to others snowmobiling with Cummings, he was trying to climb a steep, 45-degree slope when his snowmobile got stuck. A friend, Doug Phelps, tried to climb the slope to help but turned back because of the steep slope.

Another of Cummings' friends plowed ahead. But when he, too, was forced to turn back, he triggered a 200-foot-wide snow slide that plowed over Cummings, then Phelps.

"I remember a rushing sound, like a hurricane," said Cummings. "Then it was like I was in a big cloud of cotton balls. Everything was floaty."

Two thoughts flashed in his mind: his lack of an avalanche beacon and his three children, ages 8, 9 and 22.

"I remember saying I don't want to die," said Cummings. "Then I ran out of oxygen and passed out."

Phelps said he managed to restart his snowmobile, and almost outran the avalanche before it swallowed him. He was found in shallow snow, his feet sticking straight up.

Other snowmobilers at the base of the hill had 10-foot avalanche probes and began jabbing the snow for Cummings. They found his sled first. Then someone spotted a glove.

Cummings was buried standing up. "His eyes were rolled back, and he was blue," said Phelps, who introduced Cummings to snowmobiling four years ago.

Before anyone could begin CPR, however, Cummings coughed and woke up. He was wrapped in warm clothes and airlifted to Kittitas Valley Hospital in Ellensburg. He went home Saturday evening.

Slyfield said Cummings and his friends aren't the only ones to head into the backcountry without first checking the avalanche conditions, which are extremely dangerous right now. "I'm sounding like a broken record, because it's too typical today," Slyfield said.

Cummings says he is now a convert. He and Phelps plan to take avalanche training and buy beacons and probes immediately.

"Life is great," he said. "I didn't die, but I shut down and thought I'd die. I want to tell everyone to have the gear and be prepared."

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

Copyright ? 2004 The Seattle Times Company