Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2002-01-12
Submitted By: WWAN per Anchorage Daily News
Place: Cony Mt., dividing Gulkana Glacier and Cantwell Glacier, Delta Range
State: AK
Country: USA
Fatalities: 2
Summary: 3 snowmobilers, caught, one partially buried and rescued, and 2 killed

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Man, daughter killed in avalanche

SLIDE: They didn't realize they'd stopped on a ledge that was unsupported.'

By Tony Hopfinger

Anchorage Daily News

(Published: January 14, 2002)

A father and daughter died and a woman was injured Saturday near Paxson when a snow ledge the

snowmachiners stopped on broke apart, plunging the Fairbanks residents several hundred feet into a

steep ravine.

Donny Rice, 35, and daughter Jessica Rice, 13, died, raising the number of Alaska avalanche fatalities

this winter to five. Their bodies had not been recovered as of Sunday, according to Alaska State

Troopers.

Susan Rice, 38, the third victim, suffered a hip injury and was dug out by her husband, Wesley Rice of

Fairbanks.

The avalanche happened late Saturday afternoon in a treacherous area off the Richardson Highway near

Summit Lake north of Paxson, troopers said.

Donny, Jessica and Susan had stopped their snowmachines on a cornice when it broke.

Troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson called it a freak accident.

"They didn't realize they had stopped on a ledge that was unsupported," he said. "They just happened

to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Wesley Rice was not with the group at the time of the slide but was nearby to help.

He heard his wife screaming and climbed into the ravine, where he found her buried up to her neck. He

dug her out and called 911 on a cellphone, Wilkinson said.

At first, a search helicopter could neither find Wesley and Susan nor land in the rough terrain. Two

troopers on snowmachines eventually spotted the couple but were also unable to reach them because of

the many boulders, drop-offs and cliffs scattered throughout the area, Wilkinson said.

The helicopter returned and rescued the couple by 10:40 p.m. Saturday. Besides Susan's hip injury, she

and Wesley suffered hypothermia, troopers said.

Rescuers couldn't find Donny or Jessica and delayed the search until Sunday morning.

Mountain rescue groups, search dogs and an Air National Guard helicopter crew descended on the scene

Sunday.

A pararescue member with the 210th Air Rescue was lowered into the avalanche area and found the

victims' bodies in the morning.

"He touched the bodies and confirmed they were deceased," Wilkinson said.

Because the area is so treacherous, authorities decided it was too risky to recover the bodies. Wilkinson

said troopers will monitor the conditions over the coming days but said it could be weeks before it is

safe to do the recovery.

Three other people have died in avalanches across the state this winter, including two on

snowmachines. This winter's five avalanche deaths compare with four last winter.

In a separate snowmachining accident this weekend, a Bethel man died early Sunday when his vehicle

hit a snow berm while traveling an estimated 70 to 80 mph, troopers said.

Dennis Lamont, 24, of Bethel, was riding on the Kuskokwim River about 5 1/2 miles from Bethel when

the accident happened. Troopers said Lamont is believed to have been drinking before the crash.

Reporter Tony Hopfinger can be reached at thopfinger@adn.com or 907-257-4344.