Detailed Accident Report
Submitted By: UAC
Place: Trout Creek area of Strawberry Valley
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and killed
To view images of the avalanche site:
Article Last Updated: 12/12/2004 01:48:55 AM
Avalanches deadly two days running
Saturday: A snowmobiler dies and another is lucky to survive after blacking out under 4 feet of snow
By Jason Bergreen
The Salt Lake Tribune
Avalanches along the northern Utah mountains Friday night and Saturday killed two people and nearly snuffed out the life of a third man, equaling half of the total deaths recorded all of last season.
The latest fatality occurred around 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Wasatch County when a 42-year-old man snowmobiling in the Trout Creek area of Strawberry Valley was buried in 4 feet of snow. The victim was wearing an avalanche beacon but witnesses were unable to locate him for about an hour, the Wasatch Sheriff's Office reported.
The man, whom police did not identify, was flown to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
On Friday night, an Avalanche near Grizzly Gulch claimed the life of 22-year-old Zachary Eastman of Salt Lake County. Eastman was trapped under 2 to 3 feet of snow for about five minutes after triggering the avalanche while skiing across a backcountry slope.
The Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center had issued an avalanche warning for the northern Utah mountains and extreme southeast Idaho earlier Friday. That warning was downgraded from "high" on Friday to "considerable" Saturday.
"There were only a few avalanches Saturday, but they were triggered by people and they were very large," Utah Avalanche Center director Bruce Tremper said. "The avalanche activity that occurred two days ago has greatly diminished."
Recent snow, strong winds and rapidly warming temperatures contributed to the high avalanche danger, with avalanches occurring at unusually low elevations, according to the Forest Service's Web site.
A 27-year-old Bountiful man trapped in an avalanche Saturday is lucky to be alive.
Through the camcorder's tiny lens, Ben Dejong watched his buddy, Trance Workman, power his snowmobile up the face of Bountiful Peak. He then heard a crack and saw a wall of snow rushing toward him.
The sunshine filling the Farmington Flats area of Farmington Canyon Saturday quickly turned to shadow as the avalanche sped toward Dejong.
Suddenly the size of the slide doubled, than tripled, and then appeared to cover the whole side of the mountain.
The power and force behind the quickly disintegrating mountain appeared less dangerous through Dejong's camera's lens than he could fathom. In an instant, a wave of fear rushed over him and he began running.
"I thought, 'I'm not going to make it,' " Dejong said, recounting the ordeal from his home Saturday afternoon.
The rushing snow, he said, sounded, "just like the wind."
Dejong took three steps, turned to grab his own snowmobile and was immediately crushed by the ocean of snow. The impact sent Dejong spinning head over heels down 10 feet of the mountain. He was smashed into darkness 4 feet under the snow before coming to a stop. He was alive and conscious thanks only to a small air pocket between his lips and the snow.
"I was buried stiff and I couldn't move an inch," Dejong said. "I said, 'That's it, you know I'm gone.' I said my goodbyes in my head, then I did some screaming."
Dejong remained alert for about 5 minutes before blacking out.
"I've never felt so trapped like that," he said. "It was 5 billion times worse than I could have imagined."
The next thing Dejong remembers is being awakened by Workman pounding on his chest.
"I thought I had slept in and was being wakened up," Dejong said.
Since becoming workmates at Central Davis Sewage and friends more than six years ago, Dejong and Workman had ridden in this backcountry area more than 100 times.
The injury inflicted on Bountiful Peak by Workman's snowmobile triggered the avalanche, he said. Workman sat stunned on the ridge as the avalanche bore down on his friend.
"I was gasping for air," he said. "I couldn't fathom it, it was so big. The whole mountain cracked underneath me. There was no snow left."
Within seconds, Workman was racing to rescue Dejong.
"I saw him go up in the air," Workman said. "It looked like he jumped and tried to swim."
The avalanche covering Dejong measured 200 feet wide, 8 feet deep and had traveled about a quarter of a mile down the face of the mountain.
When he reached the area where Dejong had disappeared, Workman began searching for his missing friend with a avalanche beacon. As the sound got louder, he noticed a ski from Dejong's snowmobile sticking out of the snow. The shovel the men had brought had been washed away in the avalanche. Workman had to use his hands.
"I was just digging as fast as I could," he said.
Minutes later, another snowmobiler arrived with a shovel and began helping.
After digging for several minutes, the pair came upon a boot. Then they saw Dejong's shaved head.
"He was found face down, unconscious and blue," Davis County Sheriff's Capt. Kenny Payne said.
"I'd thought I'd be attending a funeral," said Workman, who immediately began CPR.
Luckily, Dejong began breathing on his own, though only slightly. Workman yelled at him to wake up.
"What about the girls? What about your wife? What about the girls? What about your wife?" he kept repeating.
Dejong answered by opening his eyes.
He was transported by helicopter to University Hospital. He was released around 2:30 p.m., suffering only from bumps and bruises he got when his snowmobile hit him.
At home recuperating Saturday with his wife and two daughters, Dejong reflected on his good fortune. "I'm lucky beyond my years," he said.