Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: Jeff Brown UAC
Place: Willard Peak
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught buried and killed
FOREST SERVICE UTAH AVALANCHE CENTER
AVALANCHE ACCIDENT REPORTING FORM
2242 West North Temple, SLC, UT 84116
t: (801) 524-5304 f: (801) 524-4030 e: UAC@avalanche.org
Investigation completed by: Jeff Brown, Avalanche Forecaster, FS Utah Avalanche Center, Salt Lake City, Utah
Date of Investigation: 12/16/2000 at about 2:30 pm
I. General Information
1. Date of accident: 12/14/00
2. Time of Accident: around 8:10 pm
3. Exact Location: Approximately 2 miles north of Willard Peak along the Eastern side of the North ridge. Or 8.4 miles South from the snomobile parking along the road heading south up Box Elder Creek Or 13 miles due north of Ogden City Center
4. Victim: Robert "Rob" Kyle Allred
5. Eyewitnesses: Dave Hogan, Eric Wadman and Donald White
6. Damage to vehicles, building, lifts, etc.: Superficial damage to victim's snomobile.
II. Accident Summary
1. Events leading up to the accident: On Thursday 12/14/2000 four friends went for a snomobile ride on Willard Peak Road. These individuals are all co-workers at the Wadman Corporation in Odgen. They left for the trip after work, arriving and unloading the snomobiles between 7 and 7:30 pm. They rode about 8 miles up the road from the snomobile parking area. They made it to the east side of the northern ridge of Willard Peak when one of the members of the group was struck and buried by an avalanche.
2. Accident account: Rob had gone out in front of the group and began traversing on the road with his snow machine. He unknowingly crossed one avalanche path and stuck his snow machine in a drift part way out into the track of another avalanche path that later avalanched and killed him. Dave and Don stayed in place shining their headlights in the direction of Rob so he could see while excavating his stuck snow machine. Eric, on his snow machine, left Dave and Don to head over to assist Rob when he triggered two avalanches that ran sympathetically in both of these avalanche paths. Luckily he ended up stuck on the road between two avalanches that ran across the first avalanche path. Rob disappeared during this series of avalanches. Later it was determined that a third path located to the south of these two also ran sympathetically.
1. Self-rescue and hasty search: The party was not equipped with avalanche transceivers, shovels or probes. The party did have a cell phone that they used to dial 911 for help. 911 was called at 8:11 pm at which time the Box Elder Sheriff's office activated their Search and Rescue plan. One of the surviving members, Donald White, left the scene by snomobile to return to the parking lot to lead the Search & Rescue group to the avalanche site. The remaining two members (Dave and Eric) began their efforts to dig near where the snomobile and Rob were last seen. The search and rescue team began arriving at the avalanche site at around 9:45 pm.
2. Description of search procedures: Search procedures utilized by the two survivors were limited to digging on the road within the avalanche debris. Once the Search & Rescue team began arriving, one of the rescue leaders organized a probe line search that started at the toe of the avalanche and worked it's way up the toe until a ski from the buried snomobile was found sticking up slightly out of the snow. The snomobile was excavated and moved. Rescuers also probed around the buried snow machine until one of the probes struck something. Rescuers shoveled down the shaft of the probe approximately 4' until they exposed Rob's helmet and head.
3. Time, location, and position of victim when found: Rob's body was found at approximately 11:10pm about 6 feet uphill from his snow machine. He was lying on his back bent slightly at the waist with his feet pointing diagonally uphill and his head on the downhill end.
4. Depth of victim, length of burial, and condition and injuries: The top of Rob's helmet was about 4' below the snow surface. He had been buried for about three hours. He was unconscious, without pulse and he was not breathing. First aid was not initiated as Rob was obviously dead when recovered. There were no obvious signs of trauma.
5. Cause of injury or death: Rob had Peticial Hemorrhages in his eyes, indicative of suffocation. This was later confirmed by an autopsy. He had experienced no trauma.
6. Secondary search and body recovery: There was only one person caught in this avalanche and there was no need for further searching. The weather continued to deteriorate and the avalanche danger continued to increase. The rescue group decided that it was best to leave the avalanche site shortly after Rob's body was recovered, leaving behind Rob's snow machine for later recovery.
IV. Weather and Snowpack Data
1. Weather synopsis: This avalanche occurred during a pretty consistent storm and avalanche cycle. The Ogden Mountains had received approximately 30 to 40 inches of about 8 to 10% density snow in a cycle that had begun on Thursday December,9th. There was about 6 to 8" of new 8 to 10% density snow that fell overnight Wednesday into Thursday (12/13 - 14/00) with winds out of the West in the 20 to 30 knot range. This was pretty indicative of how the weather had been since the beginning of the storm cycle. It was snowing and the wind remained out of the West the evening of Thursday, December 14, 2000. Dave Hogan commented that the wind was moving a lot of snow around that was limiting the visibility prior to and during the avalanche.
2. Snowpack structure: The first half of November, 2000 was generous snow wise to the Ogden area mountains by depositing several feet of snow which metamorphosed into about 18" of depth hoar. Winter's generosity stopped towards the end of the month with no additional snow for about 3 weeks and by bringing record setting cold and clear weather which converted the snow on the shaded northerly aspects into unsupportable depth hoar also known as "sugar" snow. The storm cycle that began on December 9th was deposited on top of this very weak layer of depth hoar in the form of a 4 finger hard soft slab (Depth Hoar resembles potato chips in that it will support weight up to a certain point at which it quickly fails).
3. Were there warnings, restrictions, or closures in effect? The Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center-Salt Lake City Office had issued in it's Avalanche Advisory Bottom Line for Thursday, December 14th, 2000 a "Considerable danger of human triggered avalanches on slopes approaching 35 degrees and steeper, with the most danger on steep slopes exposed to wind drifting. Human triggered avalanches are likely and natural slides are possible. . .With snowfall continuing today and even stronger winds in the forecast, the danger may rise and become more widespread. . .People without good route finding and stability evaluation skills should avoid travel in and around steep terrain."
V. Avalanche Data
1. Type of slide(s) (classification): SS-AS-III
The avalanche was a Soft Slab(SS) avalanche triggered by a human(AS) that was medium sized(III)-meaning that it was big enough to break small trees or damage structures.
2. Dimensions width: 100 - 150' (Estimated)
length: Approximately 450' (Estimated)
vertical: Approximately 340' (Estimated)
3. Crown height: 2.5 to 3' (Estimated)
4. Debris width: 100' (Estimated)
length: 120' (Estimated)
depth: 4 to 12' (Estimated)
5. Other comments: The avalanche track and debris was in very good shape during the investigation despite the new snow and wind that occurred during and after the avalanche. Broken trees in both the track and run out areas show a pretty active avalanche path.
VI. Terrain Data
1. Elevation at crown: 8,760'
at toe: 8,420'
2. Aspect: East North East
3. Slope angle in degrees, starting zone: 35 degrees
toe of debris: 5 degrees
Alpha angle from toe to starting zone: Was unable to measure due to time and weather constraints.
4. Vegetative cover (open, timbered, etc.): Relatively open with thin short brushy bushes in most of track. This is an active avalanche path as evidenced by lack of and the types of vegetation found within the track/avalanche path.
5. Shape of path (open slope, gully, etc.): Slightly concave and open bowl, Track crosses an old road that is about 85 vertical feet from the bottom of the track.
6. Other comments: Was unable to conduct a crown profile.
VII. Conclusions and Recommendations
This is an accident that did not need to occur. A group of good friends venturing into terrain that they were very familiar with. They were expert snomobilers with no avalanche skills. Basic avalanche skills and avalanche rescue equipment could have possifly saved Rob's life!
20 / 20 hindsight:
1) They did not consult the avalanche advisory for that day which, had they done so and heeded it, might have prevented this accident from occurring. This advisory described the avalanche conditions found at the time of the avalanche, the type of terrain where the hazard existed and that the danger would increase with new snow and wind. This information, if consulted, would have given this group valuable clues of what to look for.
2) They did not have the ability to recognize avalanche terrain. This knowledge could have given them better information from which to make a decision. They might have stopped their tour prior to crossing these obvious avalanche paths.
3) They did not have any avalanche rescue equipment, no avalanche transceivers, shovels or probes. Due to suffocation being the cause of Rob's death and him having experienced no trauma this group had a very good chance of a live recovery. If they had, knew how to operate and used this equipment Rob would have been very easy to locate and excavate.
4) No avalanche rescue knowledge by any of the group. Even a little bit of avalanche rescue knowledge might have improved Rob's chances of being located and recovered in time. They would have known to work their way down the track, looking for clues.
5) Relying on outside rescue groups further reinforces what the statistics show. Live rescues are usually performed by members of the accident group.
6) This avalanche, although not triggered by the accident victim, was triggered by a member of the party. Most avalanches resulting in fatalities are either triggered by the victim or a member of their party. When in avalanche terrain snomobliers should resist the urge to assist their stuck buddies. It is possible that had the remaining members of the group left Rob to his own devices he might have been able to unstick his machine and retreat.
7) Human Factors played a role in this accident. This group was very familiar with this area in all but avalanche ways. They were so comfortable with this terrain that they did not view it as posing any type of threat.
A: Box Elder County Sheriff Investigation Report
B: Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center Avalanche Advisory for 12/14/2000
C: Box Elder County Sheriff's Office Press Release dated: 12/14/2000
D: Sketches of avalanche site
E: Photo copy of USGS topo showing area and avalanches relating to this incident.
F: Photo Copy of roadmap showing location of this incident.
G: Photo copy of photograph taken on 12/16/2000 with toe boundaries, location of victim and snomobile.
H: Photo copy of photograph taken on 12/16/2000 of the avalanche track taken from near the toe of the avalanche and looking uphill. Avalanche boundaries, location of victim and snomobile are drawn in. People in the photograph are for scale. Footprints visible in the image show the probable path taken by the victim during the avalanche.