Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2005-03-30
Submitted By: Payette Avalanche Center
Place: Fisher Creek drainage near Slab Butte
State: ID
Country: USA
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught and buried. Rescued alive with beacons & good teamwork


At approximately 3:00pm on March 30th the McCall Ranger District received a call from the forest law enforcement official that a snowmobiler had been buried and possibly rescued by his party north of the city of McCall. During this time members of Valley County Search and Rescue, and McCall fire department had been dispatched to assist in the rescue effort. Personnel from the McCall Ranger District stood by as more information regarding the rescue effort came in. Shortly after the dispatch of emergency crews the party called in and cancelled the search and rescue crews. About an hour later the victim and his party arrived at the snowmobile parking lot were an ambulance took him to the local hospital. He was released shortly after that. During the incident a Boise TV crew, which was passing by on their way back to Boise found out about the incident through a scanner they had. They were able to interview the victim early that evening. The story made the evening news.


A group of 8 snowmobilers were taking turns highmarking in a steep bowl near Slab Butte. They had been highmarking for some time on the left side of a bifurcated bowl making exit turns to the left. The group was getting ready to leave when a member of the party decided to make one last run. This time he made his exit turn to the right. The slope gave way at the apex of the highmark. The party was at the bottom of the bowl, in the run-out zone. They were able to move their machines out of the way and also were able to watch the victim. He was at the top of the slide and was able to ride his machine down the slide about halfway when he felt his snowmobile sucked down from beneath him. After that he was described as ?surfing? the slide on his back, hands and feet in the air. He came to rest with his fist sticking up in the air. A split second later the slide from the right side of the bowl buried him.


The party, who all had beacons, probes, and shovels, went to the area they last saw the victim and picked up his signal. When the beacon signal indicated they were close they started probing and hit something hard. They started digging; two people in the hole, two people on the top shoveling snow away so that it did not fall back into the hole. They discovered that they were above the snowmobile so started probing again just down from the machine and hit something soft. They started digging a new hole using the same technique. As they got closer the victim stated that he could hear them. He also remembers seeing daylight when the diggers punched through to his helmet, although he was reportedly unconscious when he was found. He came to quickly and was able to respond to questions as the group kept digging the rest of his body out. Estimated time of burial was 15 minutes. He was found about two feet down slope of his snowmobile. He was lying on his side with his head upslope of his body facing down. His burial depth was 10 feet.


The slide occurred on a north-facing slope, which wrapped around to the east. Slope angles were in excess of 35 degrees; terrain was alpine with a small sub-ridge, containing scattered sub alpine fir, vertically dividing the bowl into two parts. Approximate elevations ranged from 8100 feet at top of ridge to about 7300 at bottom of bowl. Avalanche type was classified as: SS-AM-R4-D3-O. The Payette Avalanche Center had forecast a considerable danger rating for steep wind affected slopes near ridge tops that morning.

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