Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2009-04-18
Submitted By: Alaska Avalanche Information Center
Place: Thompson Pass near Valdez
State: AK
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and killed

From Peter Carter, Alaska Avalanche Information Center, Valdez:

Snowmachiner fatality on slope adjacent to competition. SW asp, 3000' elevation, 40 degree start zone, size 2.5, hard slab over facets. 500' crown averaged 3', crown max depth 7', ran 700' into terrain trap. Victim, buried 12 feet, no transceiver. Triggered slope from bottom.

Was third of the three warmest days of 2009 with cloud blanket holding heat overnight and daytime freezing level rising to 4000'. Accident was adjacent to a snowmachine competition which itself had a remote triggered size 2.5 on a crossloaded part of the course the previous day. Avalanche Center danger rating was Considerable before noon and high after noon.

The victim triggered the slab from the bottom doing more a lazy arc than a high mark per se. Happened just as the race was stopped due to avalanche danger.

Fortunate both the accompanying 11 yr old was alerted and the avalanche wasn't bigger. Sled may have caused injuries. Observed by race officials and others throughout ride, so with good comms were able to focus probing efforts. Rescuers on site within 5 minutes. As probe line was being established a spot probe found sled and then rider.

Airway opened within 20 minutes and extricated within a further 15 minutes. Heli standing by. Total time from incident to hospital 45 minutes.

***MEDIA REPORT***

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Two people are dead and several others injured after a deadly couple of days in the mountains near Valdez.

One snowmachiner died after triggering an avalanche Saturday, while a skier died after going off a cliff Friday, according to Alaska State Troopers and the Valdez Fire Department.

Snowmachiner Jordan Williams, 27, of Anchorage, died after being buried under more than 10 feet of snow by the avalanche at Thompson Pass.

Skier Herve Mazieres, 32, of France died Friday six miles in from Mile 29 of the Richardson Highway, troopers said.

Other accidents over the past few days in Thompson Pass included a snowmachiner who fell 50 feet into a crevasse, a backcountry ski guide who broke his neck skiing away from a separate avalanche, and several mishaps that left people with broken bones, according to Valdez Fire Department chief George Keeney.

The snowmachiner who fell into the crevasse was recovered and brought to a local hospital, but not injured, Keeney said.

Williams was snowmachining near where the Valdez Mountain Man Hill Climb race was taking place when the avalanche happened Saturday around 12:45 p.m., according to trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen. Williams was not part of the snowmachine competition.

Williams was with his 11-year-old nephew, but left him at the bottom of the gully while he went to highmark closer to the ridge.

Reports vary on what the 11-year-old did after the avalanche started. According to the troopers, Williams yelled at his nephew, who had his own snowmachine, to get out of the area. The nephew made it to safety.

According to the fire department rescuers, though, the boy was on foot and tried to run to help his uncle.

With so many people in the area, rescuers were able to begin the search for Williams immediately, Keeney said. Williams did not have a beacon, but searchers probed and found his snowmachine fairly quickly, Ipsen said.

However, even with the quick action, Williams was dead by the time rescuers got to him. Keeney said he was under his snowmachine and his body had obvious signs of trauma, which may indicate he died in the fall and not in the burial.

"The avalanche danger this time of year can be real nasty," Keeney said.

Mazieres died after skiing off a steep embankment, rolling and striking rocks Friday at around 12:45 p.m., troopers said. He was a client of a heli-ski company. He apparently had veered off course. He was properly equipped with safety gear but still fell a significant distance, Keeney said.

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