Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2007-12-02
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Hot Dog Bowl, near Zimmerman Lake
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 person caught, buried, rescued by companions, and dies from injuries.


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Avalanche victim dies from injuries

Co-workers at BHA Design plant tree to honor 31-year-old



Lukas Oldenburg knew he took risks in life: He snowboarded in the remote Colorado backcountry, skydived, backpacked and climbed fourteeners.

He said it was the only way to face his fears and live life to the fullest.

"There was a quote I read on a bathroom wall that I try to live by. It read: 'Everybody dies but not everybody really lives.' I think that applies to me," Oldenburg said in a 2002 interview with the Coloradoan. "I'll do a lot of crazy stuff even though there are large risks involved just to get more out of life."

Oldenburg, 31, died Monday from injuries suffered in a Dec. 2 avalanche near Hotdog Bowl above Zimmerman Lake, near Cameron Pass, about 66 miles west of Fort Collins.

It was at least the third avalanche Oldenburg had been in or near. He survived two previous slides near Loveland Pass and Berthoud Pass.

The Dec. 2 avalanche near Zimmerman buried Oldenburg in 3 feet of snow. His heart stopped beating and he wasn't breathing when two friends he was with dug him out.

They performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, restarted his heart, and he was eventually flown via helicopter to Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, where he had remained in a coma.

His family did not specify a cause of death but said they hoped people would remember him when they saw the landscapes he had designed during his eight years as a landscape architect at BHA Design in Fort Collins.

"He lived life to the fullest," his family said in his obituary.

The dozen employees at BHA Design on Monday planted a flowering crabapple tree at their office at 1603 Oakridge Drive in his memory.

Oldenburg was fresh out of North Dakota State University when BHA president Bruce Hendee hired him eight years ago.

"He cared deeply about his work and it showed in everything he did," Hendee said.

Oldenburg was a key member of the team that worked on the master plan for Poudre Valley Health System's Harmony campus, and most recently he worked to help finish Spring Canyon Park owned by the city of Fort Collins.

"One of his strengths is that he was very good in following through on the details," Hendee said. "He was interested in the environment and he cared deeply and passionately about the work he did.?

Hendee described Oldenburg as an adventurer. ?We always looked forward to hearing his tales about what he was doing in the coming weekend.?

In addition to planting the tree, Hendee said Oldenburg?s co-workers will discuss as an office how best to honor his memory.

?We?re a very close-knit office, we only have 12 people and we all feel like family. We?ll talk about it as an office and think about how we may pay tribute to him.

?As a landscape architect, planting a flowering tree in his memory will certainly remind us every spring of him,? Hendee said Monday.

Monday afternoon, backcountry enthusiasts who had been praying for his recovery were expressing sadness at Oldenburg?s death, posting messages on the forum.

?This is heartbreaking news. We didn?t know Luke, but it is always painful to lose a member of this tight-knit community, and we are grieving with you,? wrote one poster. ?We wish all of Luke?s family and friends peace in this incredibly difficult time. May he be finding endless pow and beautiful turns on the other side ...?

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Survivor recounts avalanche

Man: 'I knew it was dangerous'; buried friend remains hospitalized


The survivor of a Sunday avalanche that left his friend fighting for his life talked publicly for the first time Tuesday, describing the horrific way the avalanche engulfed his friend and the incredible luck and skill involved in saving his life.

Luke Mason, a 26-year-old Fort Collins resident and Colorado State University graduate student in chemistry, said he feels responsible for his friend lying in a Medical Center of the Rockies hospital bed in a coma. The victim's family did not wish to identify him, and the third person in the group wished not to be identified.

The situation could have ended much worse had the three members in the group, all of which are from Fort Collins, not been properly equipped when venturing into Hotdog Bowl near Zimmerman Lake, 66 miles west of Fort Collins.

"I don't know if I'm having survivor guilt, but I feel personally responsible for putting us in the situation; we had no business being up there," said Mason, an experienced backcountry skier who grew up in Fort Collins. "We were very lucky to bring him out alive."

Bad feelings

When Mason and his two buddies reached the edge of the trees at the bottom of the Hotdog Bowl in late morning, Mason had a bad feeling about the situation despite a foot of inviting virgin snow. The snow depth surprised Mason, the only one of the three who had been to the bowl nearly directly east of Cameron Pass. The threesome discussed the potentially dangerous situation at the edge of the trees.

"I knew it was dangerous where we were, but going in the trees was very difficult because the snow was so deep," said Mason, who had a compass to guide the group the mile off the Zimmerman Lake Trail to the coveted bowl.

"I knew it was bad news trying to get to a safer place in the bowl."

He was proven right not long after the trio left the trees to cross at the bottom of the bowl, which usually is a safe place to traverse a slope.

Hiking in a line at a safe distance apart - as you're supposed to when crossing avalanche terrain - suddenly a silent hell broke loose, sending a slide 2? feet deep and 300 feet wide crashing down on the group.

"I heard nothing until the guy behind me yelled 'lookout' with some profanity added," said Mason, who was in the lead. "I looked up and saw the whole mountain coming down on us."

Backcountry fates

As fate would have it, a small hill above Mason and the friend next in line saved them from being even touched by the slide. Instead, the hill shoved the bulk of the avalanche right on their friend, who was about 150 feet behind them.

"I turned to my friend and I said, 'You know what we need to do.' Those were my exact words," Mason said.

Mason and his surviving friend turned their avalanche beacons to "receive" and in less than two minutes they were almost on top of their friend, probing and digging through the debris. Their shovels struck their friends' snowshoe bottoms and further digging unveiled his snowboard still strapped to his back and his head pointing to the ground, about 4 feet from the surface.

"When we pulled him out, he was completely unresponsive, there was no pulse, no breathing," Mason said.

After trying to unsuccessfully perform CPR in the grave they dug to rescue their friend, the two, both of whom had extensive CPR training, pulled him up to the debris field. After five minutes, they were able to start his heart beating and after another five minutes of blowing breath into the half-dead body, the friend started breathing on his own.

"At times we had to quit giving CPR because we were physically exhausted from the CPR and shoveling," said Mason, noting the only obvious physical trauma to his friend's body found by MCR physicians was broken ribs from the CPR.

Once breathing and beating, the second miracle arrived. Mason's friend had decided at the last minute in the parking lot to keep his down sleeping bag in his pack. While his friend left to seek help, an exhausted Mason slowly dragged his friend in the sleeping bag back to the trailhead until rescue crews from several organizations arrived to take him to an awaiting ambulance and then helicopter.

Survival of the smartest

Bill Cotton has been responding to search and rescue calls for 20 years, covering nine avalanche rescues involving 14 victims and this was the first search where the victim had an avalanche beacon and first time the buried person survived. Statistically, people have a 50 percent chance of survival if being rescued within 30 minutes. He said the beacon and friends who knew how to use the equipment saved the victim's life.

"By the time you call a rescue crew, it's usually too late to save the person; you can't simply hold your breath as long as it usually takes for us to get there," said Cotton, a member of the Diamond Peaks Ski Patrol who responded to the call. "If he had not had an avalanche beacon, he most likely would not have survived. Unless they get really lucky, without a beacon, probes and shovel, your chances of making it out when buried are pretty slim."

Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said that most likely the group triggered the avalanche on the 35- to 40-degree slope, but that they did a remarkable job of recovery. He added that the way the Colorado snowpack is shaping up, there will likely be more of these incidents throughout the season.

"This is going to be a tricky avalanche season," he said. "We will have fairly stable situations right next to very unstable conditions."