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Date: 2004-04-28
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Mount Shasta
State: CA
Country: USA
Summary: Dog survives 2 and half hour burial

Mount Shasta News

www.mtshastanews.com

Dog survives avalanche

By Paul Boerger Updated: Wednesday, April 28, 2004 5:17 PM PDT

Jason Koster with PJ, left, and Dan Towner with rescue dog Cider. Cider found PJ alive after she was buried for two and a half hours in an avalanche on Mount Shasta.

"The chances of surviving under the snow for more than an hour are about nil," said former climbing ranger and avalanche dog handler Dan Towner.

Somehow, against all the odds, a two year old Australian Shepherd mix dog named PJ came out alive after being buried on Mount Shasta for two and a half hours Thursday.

The fortuitous placement of people and resources vault the rescue into a tale that wouldn't be believed if it wasn't true.

At approximately 11:45 a.m. on April 22nd, Jason Koster started skiing down Powder Bowl on Mount Shasta with PJ running behind.

Powder Bowl is located just below the Old Ski Bowl to the south of Avalanche Gully.

"I felt the snow settle and realized I was skiing on moving snow," Koster said. "I looked behind me and saw snow coming down over PJ."

Koster said the avalanche knocked him head over heels into a full cartwheel.

"I came up half sitting down on my skis," Koster said. "I came up and carved left out of the avalanche."

When he looked back up the slope, PJ was gone.

Towner was at work in Lake Shastina when he got the call from his wife Angela, who works with Koster. She told him Koster had called from the mountain and that PJ was buried in an avalanche.

Towner, who had trained his two and half year old Golden Retriever named Cider for avalanche rescues, left work to assist.

Fortuitously, Cider was already on the mountain near the avalanche site with Towner's father-in-law, George Thomas.

"I radioed George and told him what had happened," Towner said.

Thomas and Cider found Koster and began to search. Climbing ranger Matt Hill was alerted, and he started towards the mountain with rescue dog Kenai. Koster's roommate, snowboarder Steve Webber, also began to move to site.

"I tried to talk George and Jason through the rescue on the radio, but they weren't having any success," Towner said.

On the mountain, Koster and Thomas were working Cider in a search pattern.

"Cider doesn't see me as her handler, but as a person to play with," Koster said. "She kept finding my pack."

For more than an hour Koster and Thomas searched in vain for PJ.

"The debris pile was huge," Koster said. "My nine foot probe didn't hit bottom. As it turned out, PJ had been pushed to the side."

Koster estimated that the slide went 2,400 vertical feet down the mountain, moving at 80 miles per hour.

Hill, Towner and Webber arrived at the site a little after 2 p.m.

Under the direction of Hill and Towner, Kenai and Cider began a zig zag pattern search and within 15 minutes Cider had a hit.

"It was amazing how fast Cider found PJ with Dan there," Koster said.

"I looked back and Cider had her head down digging hard," Towner said. "She was moving snow."

At about three feet down, PJ's leg appeared.

"I didn't think she was alive," Koster said.

But PJ was alive. Although suffering from hypothermia and unable to stand, PJ was alert.

Webber, Koster's roommate, took PJ into his arms, snowboarded down the mountain and got her to a veterinarian.

"By the time I got to the vet's office, PJ was up and well," Koster said.

Koster says he knew he was taking a risk given the conditions on Powder Bowl that included recent snowfall and a warm day.

"There were definitely ingredients for a slide," Koster said. "I took the chance."

Koster said the lessons he learned from the experience were not to be alone on the mountain and "pay attention to the weather, snow and wind."

"I'm lucky the whole thing didn't come down," Koster said.

Climbing ranger Matt Hill echoes Koster's sentiments.

"Travel with a partner," Hill said. "Be weather-wise. Powder Bowl is a known avalanche area."

Hill also confirmed Towner's estimation of PJ's chances.

"A live recovery after two and a half hours is pretty unusual," Hill said.