Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2009-02-24
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Trinity Mountains near Featherville
State: ID
Country: USA
Summary: 1 snowmobiler buried and recovered



Pasco snowmobiler survives avalanche

By Drew Foster, Herald staff writer

Scott Ashton of Pasco, right, was saved by friends, including Sam Harker of Pasco, after being trapped in an avalanche during a snowmobiling trip Tuesday. While “high-marking” a slope near Featherville, Idaho, Ashton started an avalanche and was buried. Fortunately, his foot was sticking out of the snow and he was quickly found by his friends and brothers and revived.

All it took was 60 seconds.

Buried in an ice-packed coffin, Scott Ashton struggled to control his breathing. Unable to move, he concentrated on each gasp for air.

"I couldn't catch my breath," the Pasco man said Friday. "I knew I needed to slow my breathing, but I couldn't. It was like someone was sitting on my chest."

Trapped, upside down, unable to move and breathing out of control, Ashton faded out of consciousness in about a minute.

With a single foot sticking out of the snow, his brothers and friends were able to find him and start digging.

Every minute counted.

Ashton, a 33-year-old financial adviser, spent nearly 10 minutes buried in snow after being swallowed by a snowmobile-triggered avalanche in Idaho earlier this week. Unconscious, his colleagues dug him out and breathed life back into him.

"If they hadn't been prepared, I wouldn't have made it," he said.

Ashton was snowmobiling with four friends and three brothers Tuesday in Featherville, Idaho. After hours spent traversing Idaho's snow-blanketed backcountry, the crew began climbing a hill in the afternoon. For about 15 minutes, Ashton said, they took turns dashing toward its pinnacle.

"We just came to this one particular spot and didn't think too much of it," Ashton said. "I didn't think it was too bad."

He said conditions were favorable -- no drastic temperature changes, not too much fresh, unsettled snow -- so he decided to climb and followed the hill's ridgeline. He noticed it was wind-loaded, an area where snow blew over the hill's crest, accumulating in unstable piles.

"You want to stay away from areas where wind blows the snow," said his brother, Tony Ashton of Othello.

As his sibling rode, Tony said he watched the snow crumble behind Scott, saw the fast-moving avalanche envelope his brother. The rushing snow settled in two areas, one near the top of the hill, the other toward the bottom where Tony and the others -- Joel Ashton of Rexburg, Idaho; Stephen Ashton of Moses Lake; Dan Hatch and Sam Harker of Pasco; and Jim Hayhurst and Mike Cercheck of Pine, Idaho -- watched.

"My first thought is that it was a race against the clock," Tony said, adding that the group had about 10 to 15 minutes to rescue Scott. The thought of never seeing his brother alive again crossed Tony's mind, but didn't linger.

One group raced to the upper area. Tony, 36, searched for his brother below.

Six years ago, Tony was buried in an avalanche. Scott was one of the people who pulled his unresponsive body from the snow. Tony was prepared to do the same, but by the time he headed uphill, the others already had dug Scott out.

"The first thing that went through my mind is this can't be happening again," Stephen Ashton said. "When I realized it was Scott, my brain kind of stopped working."

Cercheck and Joel Ashton performed CPR, with Joel lending his breath to his brother's lifeless body. Stephen held his brother's head.

"When they got me out, they said I was in shock for about 10 minutes," Scott said. "I could hear myself screaming. I screamed for probably 10 minutes. I couldn't control my body. ... It was probably worse on the people digging me out than it was on me."

"It's still a little bit surreal," Stephen said Friday. "That part was pretty gnarly."

Stephen had trouble talking about the avalanche, looking at his brother's blue face, hearing Scott scream.

"It's pretty hard to get over," he said.

Sitting on a snow-laden hill in Idaho, with Scott fully conscious, the group prayed. They thanked God for saving their brother, their friend.


Scott, Stephen, Tony and Harker attributed Scott's rescue to preparedness. They carried beacons, shovels and probes. They knew CPR.

"I think anybody in the backcountry needs to be prepared," Scott said.

Stephen added that a little luck was probably involved too.

"As bad as it went," he said, "it couldn't have gone any better."