Team sets out to recover rock slide victims

Associated Press
Chaffee County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Everson, right, and other deputies walk out the Agnes Vaille Falls trail shortly after leaving the scene of a rock slide that killed five people Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, in Chaffee County, Colo. Deputies who reached the area rescued a teenage girl who suffered a broken leg but had to pull back after rocks kept falling from a cliff and a boulder field with rocks estimated at weighing more than 100 tons began shifting. Rescuers were to return to the site Wednesday. (AP Photo/P. Solomon Banda)
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Chaffee County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Everson, right, and other deputies walk out the Agnes Vaille Falls trail shortly after leaving the scene of a rock slide that killed five people Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, in Chaffee County, Colo. Deputies who reached the area rescued a teenage girl who suffered a broken leg but had to pull back after rocks kept falling from a cliff and a boulder field with rocks estimated at weighing more than 100 tons began shifting. Rescuers were to return to the site Wednesday. (AP Photo/P. Solomon Banda)

BUENA VISTA, Colo. (AP) — A search team set out Tuesday to recover the bodies of five hikers who were killed when a rock slide crashed onto a popular, scenic trail in Colorado.

A teenage girl survived the Monday slide and was being treated at a Denver hospital for a broken leg.

Four of the bodies can probably be recovered using hand tools, but special equipment will be needed to dislodge a huge boulder and retrieve the fifth body, said David Noltensmeyer of the North End Search and Rescue team.

He said the team might try moving the boulder with a heavy inflatable bag that firefighters use to lift large vehicles during rescues.

The slide sent 100-ton boulders onto a viewing area overlooking Agnes Vaille falls in Chalk Creek Canyon below Mount Princeton, a 14,197-foot peak in south-central Colorado.

Witnesses said some of the boulders were the size of cars.

Rescuers were unable to recover the bodies Monday because the rocks were dangerously unstable. The safety of the recovery team is still a concern and lookouts will keep a close eye on the slide.

"If anything moves, our people will come out," he said.

Authorities have not released the names of the victims or said whether they were a single group. A female hiker who heard the slide ran down the trail and called for help, said Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze.

The area had a rainy summer and a recent snowfall, said Spezze. It was too soon to know whether the weather prompted the slide, which left a football-field-sized gash in the mountainside, he said.

"It was totally unexpected. It caught everybody by surprise," Spezze said.

The trail is one of the first hikes recommended to people new to the area and is also popular with tourists, said Margaret Dean, a regular hiker who has walked the trail with her 7-year-old grandson.

Dean, a copy assistant at The Mountain Mail newspaper in Salida, said the trail is easily accessible and provides a view of the falls and the Chalk Creek Valley in Collegiate Peaks, which contains mountains over 14,000-feet tall.

Agnes Vaille, the waterfall's namesake, was a Denver mountaineer who died in 1925 while attempting a difficult winter climb of Longs Peak, which rises to 14,259 feet.

The U.S. Forest Service maintains the trail. Spezze said officials have asked the Forest Service for a permanent closure.

The Forest Service says the trail got medium to heavy usage. The trailhead lies across from Chalk Lake campground and is near the St. Elmo ghost town, a popular stop for tourists in Colorado's central mountains.

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