Avalanche survivor buried for 4 hours, 1 arm free

Associated Press
Snow falls near the spot where five members of a backcountry snowboarder group were found dead after they were trapped by an avalanche on Loveland Pass, Colo., Saturday, April 20, 2013. According to officials from the Clear Creek County Sheriff's Office, the five were killed on the high mountain pass in Colorado's White River National Forest earlier in the day. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
.

View photo

Snow falls near the spot where five members of a backcountry snowboarder group were found dead after they were trapped by an avalanche on Loveland Pass, Colo., Saturday, April 20, 2013. According to officials from the Clear Creek County Sheriff's Office, the five were killed on the high mountain pass in Colorado's White River National Forest earlier in the day. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

DENVER (AP) — The sole survivor of an avalanche that killed five other men on the Continental Divide west of Denver was able to clear snow from his face with his unburied lower left arm so he could breathe, but he remained stuck for four hours until rescuers arrived, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said Wednesday.

In its final report on the weekend accident, the center said the state's deadliest slide since 1962 was large enough to bury or destroy a car. Of the men who died in the 800-foot-wide, 600-foot-long avalanche Saturday morning, one was buried under 10 to 12 feet of snow.

The avalanche was tragic but avoidable, the center said.

The center's final report offered new details on the avalanche that occurred as snowboarders and skiers converged near Loveland Pass for the Rocky Mountain High Backcountry Gathering. The event was promoted by a Colorado snowboarding magazine as a day for backcountry riding but also avalanche gear and safety demonstrations.

The four snowboarders and a skier who died were all from Colorado. The Clear Creek County sheriff's office identified them as Christopher Peters, 32, of Lakewood; Joseph Timlin, 32, of Gypsum; Ryan Novack, 33, of Boulder; Ian Lamphere, 36, of Crested Butte; and Rick Gaukel, 33, of Estes Park.

Friends identified the survivor as Jerome Boulay of Crested Butte, who has declined requests for interviews.

All had proper avalanche equipment. At least two had avalanche airbags, and some had Avalung breathing devices but apparently were unable to use them, the report said.

"This was a really tragic accident. There's no denying that," said Ethan Greene, the center's director. "Nobody's immune from getting caught in avalanches. It doesn't matter how long you've been doing this, how athletic you are. ... Everybody can get killed. It's an equal-opportunity hazard."

The center has said the avalanche was a deep persistent slab avalanche, which occurs when a thick layer of hard snow breaks loose from a weak, deep layer of snowpack underneath. Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasters had alerted people about the potential for such avalanches Saturday, warning of likely trigger points.

"If you find the wrong spot, the resulting avalanche will be very large, destructive, and dangerous," the forecast said.

On Saturday, Boulay and the other five men had left the parking lot of Loveland Ski Area, which wasn't affiliated with the backcountry gathering, for a one-hour tour.

They read the center's avalanche bulletin together, were aware of the deep persistent slab problem, and aimed to avoid threatening north-facing slopes as they planned to climb a few hundred vertical feet onto northwest-facing slopes, the report said.

But to get to that safer spot, they had to cross a dangerous area, Greene said. They decided to reduce the risk by leaving 50 feet between each person as they trekked. That turned out not to be enough for the large avalanche they triggered.

The group was heading for a stand of trees when they felt a large collapse and heard a "whumpf," the report said. In the seconds it took for the crack in the snow to move uphill and release the deep slab, the group ran toward the trees. Everyone but Boulay was completely buried as the group was swept into the Sheep Creek gully.

Boulay was buried except for his lower left arm, which he used to clear snow from his face. He tried to free his other arm and screamed for help.

There was no one around to hear him, the report said.

"It covered everybody. There was nobody left to call 911, nobody left to look for the buried, to help the one person who wasn't buried but couldn't get out," Greene said.

It took a while for anyone to realize the group was trapped.

Two Colorado Avalanche Information Center highway avalanche forecasters spotted the slide around 12:15 p.m. from Interstate 70. When they got to the scene about 30 minutes later, their avalanche beacons detected no signals. Even with binoculars, they couldn't see tracks heading into the slide area, the report said.

After forecasters drove back to the ski area to ask others at the backcountry gathering whether anyone might be trapped, several people rushed to the scene.

The center urges even expert backcountry enthusiasts to know the conditions, have rescue equipment and get educated on avalanches.

"We owe it to these guys to learn from a really horrible accident they were involved in," Greene said. "The only thing worse than all these guys getting killed is not to have us learn anything from it."

___

Online:

Find Catherine Tsai on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ctsai_denver

View Comments (219)

Recommended for You

  • US billionaire says WWII Japanese ship found in Philippines

    Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen said Wednesday he had found one of Japan's biggest and most famous battleships on a Philippine seabed, some 70 years after American forces sank it during World War II. Excited historians likened the discovery, if verified, to finding the Titanic, as they hailed the…

    AFP
  • Pre-teen who called out Obama gets kicked off Facebook

    Pearson, under Facebook’s minimum age requirement of 13, was upset to find out that he was locked out of his account. After failing to get into his personal page, he created a new one, according to a Fox News blog post. “Due to the fact that approximately 7.5 million kids (under the age of 13) log…

    Christian Science Monitor
  • Central Florida man killed by police serving search warrant

    By Barbara Liston ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - A 26-year-old Central Florida man died after being shot in the face early on Wednesday morning by a sheriff’s deputy attempting to serve a search warrant in a narcotics investigation, authorities said. The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office reported in a…

    Reuters
  • 175-Pound Pit Bull Hulk Shatters Misconceptions About the Breed

    This dog just may be the world's largest Pit Bull. Only 18-months-old, Hulk weighs a hefty 175 pounds. He's also best friends with a 3-year-old boy.

    ABC News
  • Chad president tells Boko Haram leader to surrender or face death

    By Madjiasra Nako N'DJAMENA (Reuters) - President Idriss Deby of Chad said on Wednesday he knew the whereabouts of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram, and called on him to surrender or risk being killed. Chad's army has waged a series of battles against Boko Haram…

    Reuters
  • Australians on Indonesia death row arrive on execution island

    Two Australian drug smugglers were taken Wednesday to an Indonesian island where they will be executed despite frantic diplomatic efforts to save them, as Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Australia was "revolted" by their looming deaths. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of the…

    AFP
  • U.S. may review 1959 airplane crash that killed Buddy Holly

    (Reuters) - U.S. transportation safety investigators said on Wednesday they are reviewing a request to reopen a probe into the 1959 airplane crash that killed musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson, better known as "The Big Bopper," and their pilot. The original investigation 56…

    Reuters
  • View

    Turkish jetliner skids off on runway (9 photos)

    A Turkish Airlines jet landing in dense fog in the Nepalese capital Wednesday skidded off a slippery runway but there were no serious injuries, officials said. Officials at Kathmandu's Tribhuwan International Airport said the plane with 238 people on board was coming from Istanbul when the…

    Yahoo News
  • Barcelona to meet Athletic Bilbao in Cup final

    Madrid (AFP) - Barcelona eased into the Copa del Rey final as they completed a 6-2 aggregate win over Villarreal with a 3-1 win at El Madrigal on Wednesday.

    AFP6 mins ago
  • 'Thousands' of Russian troops in east Ukraine: US envoy

    The United States' senior envoy to Europe alleged Wednesday that Russia had deployed "thousands and thousands" of troops to neighboring Ukraine. Speaking to a congressional foreign affairs committee, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland also told US lawmakers that Russia was flooding…

    AFP
  • Couple plead not guilty to locking up kids 22 hours a day

    JEFFERSON, Ohio (AP) — A husband and wife accused of making three of their adopted children virtual prisoners inside their Ohio home pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a case that began after prosecutors say two girls crashed the family van while trying to make their escape.

    Associated Press
  • Student Shot With BB Gun On Campus Shocked by University`s Reaction

    A student at Norfolk State University says she was shot with a BB gun and hit with a bottle of urine outside of a all-male dorm room on campus, but says the school offered little help to her or other students when she contacted them.

    Tribune
  • Killers sought in deaths of 300,000 chickens in South Carolina

    By Harriet McLeod CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Revenge may be the motive for the killings in South Carolina of more than 300,000 commercial chickens worth about $1.7 million over the past two weeks, authorities said on Monday. Birds have been found dead of unnatural causes in 16 chicken houses at…

    Reuters
  • Former marine reported killed in Syria

    A former Royal Marine has become the first Briton to be killed while fighting with Kurdish forces battling Islamic State jihadists in Syria, leaving his family "devastated" Wednesday. Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, 25, died on Monday in a battle with IS militants, a source in the Kurdish People's…

    AFP
  • Georgia police officer killed in shootout

    By David Beasley ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia police officer was killed in a shootout with a suspect in suburban Atlanta early on Wednesday, authorities said. Officers went to investigate reports of shots in a suburban neighborhood and came under fire about 1:30 a.m. EST, according to the Fulton…

    Reuters
  • Paris Hilton brother Conrad to plead guilty to plane assault

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paris Hilton's youngest brother, Conrad, agreed to plead guilty to assaulting flight attendants on a trip from London to Los Angeles last year when authorities say he called other passengers "peasants" and threatened to kill crew members.

    Associated Press
  • Majority of Americans now support marijuana legalization, survey shows

    For the first time, the General Social Survey shows that a majority of Americans support the legalization of cannabis.

    Yahoo News31 mins ago
  • Passengers use emergency slides after landing in Denver

    DENVER (AP) — Passengers on an American Airlines flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, were forced to slide off the plane on emergency chutes soon after landing in Denver on Wednesday.

    Associated Press