Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2000-12-14
Submitted By: Mike Jenkins, Snowbasin
Place: Snowbasin
State: UT
Country: USA
Summary: Plane crash in avalanche terrain, pilot killed in crash

Snowbasin Ski Patrol and Weber Co. SAR Recover Plane Crash Victim

Report by Mike Jenkins

Director Snow Safety

Snowbasin, Utah

December 18, 2000

At approximately 9:30 p.m on Thursday December 14, 2000 George Horsley's single engine aircraft crashed into the mountains of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest between Mt. Ogden and Mt. Allen and within the boundary of the Snowbasin Resort in Utah. Horsley, 58, an experienced pilot was an Ogden, Utah resident on a flight from Kansas City, Missouri to Ogden. The crash occurred during a winter storm near the end of an extensive snow and avalanche cycle. The wreckage was in steep avalanche-prone terrain. On Friday December 15 the Snowbasin Ski Patrol performed routine avalanche control including firing all 13 shots on the John Paul Patrol avalauncher. Control work was conducted with poor visibility, but results were good and several large avalanches resulted. The wreckage was not visible, but it was later determined that avalanche debris overran the crash site. It is not known if the crash itself triggered an avalanche. The missing aircraft was reported to the Weber Co. Sheriff at approximately 2:00 p.m. on Friday, December 15. Weber Co. relayed the information to the U.S. Forest Service Snow Ranger Scott Layton and the Snowbasin Snow Safety Director Mike Jenkins. Jenkins and Layton rode the John Paul Express lift, but continued poor visibility prevented confirmation of the crash site. Assistant Snow Safety Director, Frank Waikart had been the head gunner on the avalauncher mission that morning. When told of the possible crash site he suggested that he had seen debris in the avalanches triggered that morning, but thought at the time it was rocks. On sweep Waikart was able to see what he thought to be the wreckage. Waikart and Layton rode back to the area on snowmobiles and were able to confirm that the tail section and a portion of fuselage were visible in the Mt. Ogden/Mt. Allen cirque at an elevation of 9000'. The information was relayed to the Sheriff at approximately 5:15 p.m. Jenkins decided not to mount a rescue/recovery effort that evening because of high winds, continued snow, darkness and poor visibility. Plans were made to organize a rescue at first light on the following morning, Saturday, December 16.

Weber Co. Sheriff Lt. Jeff Malan and Sgt. Brad Randall called out the Weber Co. SAR mountain rescue unit and support personnel and Snowbasin command was established in the Ski Patrol facility at 7:00 a.m. A briefing was held between Weber Co. SAR and the Snowbasin Ski Patrol and Jenkins and Malan were appointed as co-accident site commanders. Jenkins was responsible for coordinating avalanche control and leading the rescue party to the crash site via the safest route. At approximately 7:30 a.m. the John Paul avalauncher was again fired by Waikart and Paul Wright putting additional avalanche debris onto the wreckage and proposed rescue route. A ski patrol control team was organized and rode the Olympic Tram to Mt. Allen. The team, Mike Hansen, Leroy Gleichman and Jeff Hirschi climbed to the top of Mt. Allen and threw hand charges into chutes above the proposed rescue route. Additional avalanches were released resulting in debris on the rescue route. Hansen, Gleichman and Hirschi ski cut from Mt. Allen to further protect the rescuers. A ski patrol initial response task force included Jenkins, Waikart, Wright and Sylvi, a Snowbasin and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue search dog, broke a trail to Hansen's team using additional hand charges for protection. The patrollers completed the trail to the wreckage and stood by while Malan's task force and Layton arrived for photo documentation. Jenkins put Sylvi to work near the wreckage and within a few minutes she alerted and began digging in an area approximately 30 feet uphill of the visible tail section. Jenkins requested Hansen to probe in the area of the alert and he quickly confirmed a strike. The time was approximately 9:30 a.m. The probe was left in place and the ski patrol shovelers uncovered the body from beneath 3-5 feet of snow. The body was outside of the wreckage apparently ejected during the crash. Death appeared to have been instantaneous. Weber Co. SAR packaged the body, moved it to a cat track below the site and the ski patrol transported it to the base with a toboggan.

The objective of winter rescue is to get to the site quickly and safely and find and recover the victim without undue exposure to scores of rescuers. The mission emphasizes the value of professional rescuers and search dogs familiar with snow and avalanche conditions, and who are able to perform avalanche control and travel safely in avalanche terrain. The rescue/recovery mission was executed efficiently with safety of the rescuers the principle consideration. Cooperation between Snowbasin, Weber Co. and the U.S. Forest Service was excellent.