Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2008-01-12
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: near the North Fork of Cottonwood Creek
State: WY
Country: USA
Fatalities: 3
Summary: 3 snowmobilers buried and killed


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Slides kill 3, injure 1

By Michael Pearlman

January 14, 2008

Three snowmobilers died in an avalanche Saturday southeast of Afton, and two skiers were caught and one was injured in a slide near Cache Peak in the Gros Ventre Wilderness.

The Lincoln County Sheriff?s Office on Sunday had little information on the avalanche that killed three Star Valley men in the Cottonwood Lake area of Bridger-Teton National Forest. A news release said all three were dead by the time search-and-rescue workers had located them. An investigation was ongoing and the sheriff?s office expected additional information this morning.

The Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center reported the accident happened near the North Fork of Cottonwood Creek and that the snowmobilers were deeply buried by the large avalanche.

On Cache Peak in Teton County, the injured skier, Ryan Talermo, was transported out of the backcountry early Sunday morning after a major search-and-rescue operation.

Jackson residents Talermo and Morgan Frederick had departed around noon from the Cache Creek trailhead on a single snowmobile, which the pair parked at the wilderness boundary. The two men were skinning up a steep treed slope at about 9,000 feet on a southwest aspect near Cache Peak when the avalanche occurred.

Frederick, who was uphill of his partner when the slide began, estimated the avalanche crown at between 3 and 4 feet. He said the slide knocked his skis off his feet and happened so quickly he had little time to react.

?I tried to hold onto a sapling but couldn?t,? said Frederick, who was uninjured. ?I managed to get behind a tree and pushed against it, standing up as the snow was passing over my back.?

When the snow stopped moving, Frederick said, he was still standing and not buried. He turned on his avalanche beacon and began yelling for Talermo. Frederick began walking and sliding down the bed surface and quickly heard Talermo shout from below that he had broken his leg. Frederick dialed 911 on his cell phone around 4:20 p.m. to report the accident, then reached his friend, who had been slammed into a tree by the force of the slide. Frederick was able to clear an area for his partner to lie down while the pair waited for help to arrive.

A helicopter transported Teton County Search and Rescue coordinator Doug Meyer and Dr. A.J. Wheeler to a spot near the avalanche site about 5:30 p.m. Incident commander Arlo Niederer, Search and Rescue deputy director, said the helicopter could have flown Frederick out of the area but there wasn?t enough daylight remaining for rescuers to prepare Talermo for transport to the helicopter.

An incident command center was established at the Cache Creek trailhead, and Search and Rescue skiers were sent in about six miles from the Cache Creek trailhead and reached Talermo about 11 p.m. The skiers brought Talermo to a group of snowmobiles, which brought him to the trailhead. An ambulance took Talermo, who Niederer said had suffered a broken femur, to St. John?s Medical Center about 12:30 a.m.

After more than 60 inches of snow in seven days, the general avalanche danger at mid- and upper elevations Saturday was ?considerable,? according to the Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center, meaning dangerous unstable slabs exist on steep terrain on certain aspects, human-triggered avalanches are probable and natural avalanches are possible.

The avalanche danger was expected to remain considerable today, as surface slabs, 1 to 3 feet in depth, could be triggered by backcountry travelers venturing onto steep, wind-loaded avalanche paths, according to the avalanche center. Deeper hard slabs persist on steep slopes and may need more substantial triggers such as snow machines, large groups, cornice drops or surface slides stepping down.

Sunshine and warming temperatures today will increase the likelihood of triggering slides, the avalanche center reported in its Sunday afternoon advisory.

? Tim Dudley contributed to this report.

***Media Reports***

Sunday, January 13, 2008 2:05 AM MST

Three men were found dead Saturday afternoon in the Cottonwood Lake area in Star Valley, the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office reported.

The names of the men were not released by the sheriff's office, which noted the men were caught in an avalanche while snowmobiling.

The men were found by the Star Valley Search and Rescue team Saturday, the sheriff's office noted in the release.

It's not known how long the men had been in the area, a sheriff's dispatcher said.