Friends watch avalanche sweep snowboarder over volcano cliff to his death, OR cops say

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Friends watched an avalanche carry a snowboarder down an Oregon volcano to his death, authorities said.

The group alerted rescuers at 12:48 p.m., Wednesday, March 15, from Paulina Peak at Newberry National Volcanic Monument, about 10 miles south of Bend, the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

The active volcano, sometimes called Newberry Crater, has a caldera that stretches 17 square miles, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Erik Maxim Hefflefinger, a 33-year-old from Bend, was snowboarding down the volcano with two other people who were skiing.

His friends were descending the peak when an avalanche began to sweep Hefflefinger away, deputies said. They watched him get carried over a cliff band on the volcano, deputies said.

When his friends reached him, he was not buried in the snow, so they began performing CPR.

Rescuers reached the group by helicopter at about 4 p.m., deputies said. Hefflefinger had a light pulse, so rescuers continued “life saving measures.”

An hour later, rescuers stopped because they “determined Hefflefinger was beyond help,” deputies said.

Authorities said he likely struck a tree as the avalanche carried him down the peak. They also said the two friends didn’t trigger the avalanche.

The three men had avalanche proper safety equipment, deputies said.

What to know about avalanches

Avalanches happen quickly and catch people by surprise. They can move between 60 and 80 mph and typically happen on slopes of 30-45 degrees, according to experts.

Skiers, snowmobilers and hikers can set off an avalanche when a layer of snow collapses and starts to slide down the slope.

In the U.S., avalanches are most common from December to April, but they can happen at any time if the conditions are right, National Geographic reported.

At least 17 people in the U.S. have died in avalanches this season as of March 16, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

People heading into snow should always check the local avalanche forecast at, officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said, and have an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel ready.

“Emergency services are usually too far away from the scene of an avalanche, and time is important,” Simon Trautman, a national avalanche specialist, said. “A person trapped under the snow may not have more than 20 or 30 minutes. So, in a backcountry scenario, you are your own rescue party.”

If an avalanche breaks out, it’s best to move diagonal to the avalanche to an edge, Trautman said.

“Try to orient your feet downhill so that your lower body, not your head, takes most of the impact,” officials said. “You may also get into a tight ball as another way to protect your head.”

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