Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2008-01-25
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: backcountry Terrain, Mountain High Resort
State: CA
Country: USA
Fatalities: 3
Summary: 3 skiers caught, buried, and killed in 3 seperate avalanches

***MEDIA REPORTS***

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Three skiers die in avalanche, one makes it out alive

FROM STAFF REPORTS

January 26, 2008 - 9:32AM

WRIGHTWOOD ? As a fierce storm barreled toward Southern California on Saturday, searchers found the body of a third avalanche victim and rescued a missing snowboarder who survived a frigid night in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Taking advantage of a lull in a week of storms, searchers combed the area near the Mountain High ski resort in Wrightwood. Christopher Allport, 60, of Santa Monica, was found Saturday morning and was one of two people reported missing Friday after a trio of avalanches swept off-trail canyons.

When reached at his home, a family member confirmed Allport had died but declined to give her name and further comment.

Allport was a veteran character actor and had appeared on such TV shows as ?ER,? ?Felicity? and ?Matlock.? He wrote a story that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 2004 about the pleasures of backcountry skiing.

?Any excursion into the mountains requires awareness,? he wrote. ?Have fun, but be careful.?

The missing snowboarder was found also on Saturday after spending the night on the mountain.

?He walked out? and was in good condition, Los Angeles County sheriff?s dispatcher Tracy Meritt said.

Oscar Gonzales Jr., 24, of Westminster was airlifted, examined at a hospital and sent home, Sheriff?s Deputy Luis Castro said.

?We?re confident no one else is missing and we?ve called off our search,? Castro said around 1 p.m. Saturday. ?All four people believed missing have since been accounted for.?

Castro told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that he got lost when he left the marked ski trails at the resort.

?I made the wrong decision about going out of bounds,? Gonzales said. ?I hit a rock.?

Gonzales said he was not hurt but he walked at least 13 miles overnight to keep warm, thinking of his 51?2-year-old daughter, Jaden Ann.

?I didn?t think about anything else,? Gonzales said. ?I couldn?t stand leaving my daughter.?

Gonzales told the newspaper that he eventually found an old airplane fuselage and slept there until about 4:30 a.m., when he went to an open field and waited until he was rescued by a sheriff?s helicopter.

Michael McKay, 23, of Wrightwood, was an off-duty ski patroller from the Mountain High resort. He was killed in the first of the three slides.

Rescuers pulled another man, Darin Coffey, 31, of Wrightwood from a second avalanche late Friday. He was pronounced dead around 12:15 a.m. Saturday, according to the San Bernardino County Coroner?s office.

Eric Coffey told KNBC-TV that his brother was skiing with two friends.

One friend was on top of the slope and he yelled ?avalanche,? Coffey said.

The other friend turned around.

?He got buried, and then he popped out,? Coffey said. ?My brother just got buried.?

Coffey?s roommate declined to comment when reached by phone but said that the skier?s friends planned to gather Saturday night at pub near the resort.

Avalanches are unusual in the San Gabriel Mountains, authorities said, but so was the 3 feet or more of new snow that hit the region in a matter of days this week.

Avalanches are ?a freak occurrence? in the local mountains, said Pete Olson, president of Mt. Baldy Ski Resorts.

?We depend on snow-making, and snow-making doesn?t lead to avalanches,? Olson said. ?It usually doesn?t snow enough to make anything happen up here.?

The tragedy didn?t stop skiers and snowboarders from swarming to Mountain High. About 6,000 people jammed the slopes Saturday, officials said.

***MEDIA REPORTS***

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Skier Killed In Wrightwood Avalanche

KNBC-TV

January 25, 2008

LOS ANGELES - Mountain avalanches in Wrightwood killed an off-duty ski patrol worker and left two other people missing Friday as California strained under nearly a week of snow and rain.

The skier was pulled from the snow in Wrightwood, a town in the San Gabriel Mountains, Los Angeles County sheriff's Deputy C. Osterthaler said.

The 23-year-old was identified as an employee of the Mountain High ski area.

He was taken to a hospital, where he died at about 4:30 p.m., said hospital spokeswoman Jana Retes.

San Bernardino County fire officials said the man was skiing with two friends.

The friends have not been located, according to authorities.

Teams from Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties are assisting in the search.

A spokesman for Mountain High Resort said at least four avalanches were reported in the

last 10 hours. John McColly, director of communications for the resort, said two avalanches

were reported on a mountain road and two more were reported in a canyon area.

McColly said the resort received about 4 feet of snow during the recent storms.

The avalanches occurred after an overnight storm that dumped new snow.

"I'm sure that the avalanches are due to the amount of snow that has fallen over the past

several days," said Tim Wessel, division chief for the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

The U.S. Forest Service said an avalanche warning is in effect for Mountain High and Mount Baldy.