Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2005-01-14
Submitted By: UAC
Place: Dutch Draw, backcountry skiing area
State: UT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowboarder caught, buried, and killed.

Accident Report Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center

Friday, January 14, 2004

Avalanche Fatalities in Dutch Draw

Provisional report

Location:

Dutch Draw, a popular out of bounds area adjacent to and often accessed by Peak 9990? of the Canyons Mountain resort. The slide path is a 35-40 degree ENE open slope at 10,000?.

Accident Summary:

At this time, there is some initial agreement that a snowboarder launched over a cliff, triggering the massive slide that engulfed him and an unknown number of others that were either on the same slope or in the runout below. He was pulled from the debris on January 16th in the mid-morning. The path had been skied multiple times that morning and photos show numerous tracks going into the fracture line. None of the victims were wearing transceivers, and up until this morning, all had remained deep within the debris.

Rescue Summary:

Initial communications alerted the Canyons ski patrol, the Wasatch County Sheriff?s Department, and Wasatch Backcountry Rescue. Control teams conducted further explosive testing prior to rescue teams entering the area. Beacon and dog searches and probe lines failed to turn up any victims in the 20? deep debris through the evening and the next day.

Avalanche Data:

HS-AS-R5D4-O. It was a large hard-slab avalanche, which broke up to 6-8? feet deep and 700 feet wide. The slab was composed of hard, dense new snow and wind-deposited snow and the weak layer was faceted snow formed during the November dry spell.

Weather History:

Between January 7th and the morning of the 12th, another wet heavy storm on a southerly track slammed the Wasatch with 52?/7.78?, pushing totals from December 27th to 107?/11.35?. Between the 11th and the 16th, natural, human and explosive triggered avalanches pulled out avalanches down to the faceted snow from November up to 10? deep, with some two to three thousand feet wide. With good weather on the 13th, fracture lines lined the landscape from Provo to Logan. 100 year old trees were taken out, alpha angles were recorded less than 20 degrees, new avalanche paths were created, and even the old timers were left scratching their heads. Control work pulled out 4-7? deep avalanches in heavily compacted terrain. The Utah Avalanche Center issued an AVALANCHE WARNING on the 9th and the danger was rated as HIGH through the 12th.. As the natural avalanche cycle started to wind down, the Utah Avalanche Center dropped the danger to Considerable on the 13th, but with caveats such as ?any avalanche triggered will be lethal?.

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Article Last Updated: 1/17/2005 12:34 AM

Body found; search goes on

Number of possible avalanche victims still undetermined

By Tom Wharton

The Salt Lake Tribune

PARK CITY - Search and rescue crews probing the northern toe of a 700-foot wide avalanche north of The Canyons ski resort found the body of 27-year-old Sand Point, Idaho, snowboarder Shane Maixner on Sunday morning.

Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said a search and rescue team member using a probe found the body at 10 a.m. under 4 feet of snow at the north end of the toe of the slide. Rescue dogs alerted searchers to the possibility of a body. The man was found along with goggles, snowboard and helmet. He did not have an avalanche beacon.

Edmunds said that, while his officers have successfully cleared about 40 names off a list of possible victims who had been reported missing since the slide occurred Friday at about 1 p.m., searchers who worked the Dutch Draw area until dusk Sunday had found additional clothing items in the debris field, suggesting there might be more victims.

"We haven't found a lot of additional clothing items," he said. "But it might suggest we have people in there. Or was the clothing shed before the avalanche released?"

The sheriff said after Maixner was recovered with the help of about 20 rescue dogs working the area that there could be as many as four other victims buried. He called that number an educated guess and said it was based on eyewitness accounts.

When search and rescue teams from all over Utah met at 7 a.m. Sunday, they viewed a video taken moments before the avalanche, which showed one person preparing to hike up into the area that already had boot tracks leading to the top of the ridge.

Edmunds emphasized that avalanche danger in the area remains extreme, so much so that the airspace around the search area has been closed so as not to trigger more slides.

Officials are hoping that airborne ground-penetrating radar being shipped to Utah from Minnesota will help search and rescue teams today find any bodies buried deep in the snow.

The sheriff said workers using probes had covered about 90 percent of the slide area.

"We need to have more technology," said Edmunds, who praised the work of the 150 volunteers who were on the mountain Sunday searching for bodies.

A similar number of workers are expected today, which is the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. But the sheriff expressed concern about burning out crews who might be needed in other parts of Summit County or the rest of the state because of the continuing extreme avalanche danger.

Edmunds called the mood on the mountain somber.

"Anytime we recover a body, a lot of emotion goes with that," he said. "They have been up searching a long time. We would have preferred to have found survivors. But we are glad to have made progress."

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. toured the avalanche area by helicopter late Sunday afternoon and called it "a devastating sight."

"My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones," he said later while meeting and thanking the search and rescue crews.

Edmunds said Maixner was the one victim searchers were almost certain was buried. The other clothing found on the mountain was not his. The sheriff said that while no local skiers are reported missing at this time, any guess as to the possible number of other victims would be speculative.

"We have multiple other eyewitnesses who said there were others they believed were in the avalanche," the sheriff said. "We have taken a lot of folks back up on the hill. They are adamant there are additional subjects."

Searchers were working a debris field near the bottom of the avalanche that included numerous shattered trees, making the job of probing the snow for bodies or clothing items more difficult.

Crews, made up of volunteers from around the state, were sent out Sunday in two shifts. Volunteers from the American Red Cross worked at an office-recreation complex next to St. Mary's Catholic Church that served as headquarters for the search and rescue effort. They served rescue crews lunch, breakfast, hot drinks, water and snacks.

Tribune reporter Jason Bergreen contributed to this story.

Article Last Updated: 1/15/2005 03:37 AM

Killer slide

Two to five people are missing, presumed dead

By Justin Hill

and Lisa Rosetta

The Salt Lake Tribune

Salt Lake Tribune

PARK CITY - A huge, dense avalanche claimed between two and five people on a steep bowl just outside The Canyons ski resort Friday, officials said. No bodies were recovered from the slide, which came after two weeks of extreme avalanche warnings.

The avalanche broke near a ridgeline above Dutch's Draw, just south of the resort's boundaries, in the early afternoon on a bright, unseasonably warm day. The slide, as much as 500 yards wide at the top and half a mile long, was about 30 feet deep at its toe, or stopping point, Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said during a news conference Friday.

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Inside the mind of a potential avalanche victim

Sheriff's dispatchers received a cell phone call at 12:57 p.m. from a man who reported that a "massive avalanche had swept away a person he was skiing with," according to a news release. The victim's name was being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

Investigators talked to several witnesses, Edmunds said, and their information led to the approximate number of victims. There were conflicting reports on whether those people were skiing or snowboarding.

Searchers found no trace of the possible victims, and the danger and depth of the slide meant there is a "strong possibility we won't have [solid] numbers for some time," Edmunds said.

Devon Aubrey, a Canyons employee, said the resort's ski patrol had said on their radios that a group of six people had triggered the slide, but Edmunds said he could not confirm that.

Gazing up from his post, lift attendant Rob Bennion said it looked like the avalanche "took down the whole side of the mountain."

Searchers and their dogs were to return to the mountain early today. Bruce Tremper, director of the U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center, indicated there was no reason to believe anyone would be found alive. "The search for survivors ended 15 minutes after the avalanche stopped."

Edmunds said Friday's victims rode the resort's Ninety-Nine-90 chairlift and entered Dutch's Draw through a gate emblazoned with a skull and crossbones and warnings about the danger of leaving the safety of the resort for snowfields not subject to avalanche control.

"When you go out of bounds of any ski resort, you're on your own," Edmunds said. "These are people who were reckless."

Tremper said two weeks of heavy storms that dropped 6 to 8 feet of heavy, dense snow, combined with unseasonably warm weather and wind, created a huge potential for avalanches. The center, he said, has been issuing avalanche warnings "for about as long a period as I can remember."

"It is the same combination of factors that causes most avalanches; a pre-existing weak layer of snow with a huge slab of snow on top of it," Tremper said. "This last storm was like trying to park an Oldsmobile on top of a bag of potato chips."

He also said that the slide could have occurred naturally, but pointed out that 90 percent of avalanches are triggered by victims or their companions.

Dutch's Draw, he said, is "a very dangerous area and it always has been. It's a very steep, very large and very dangerous area which happens to be right next to a ski area. A lot of people leave the ski area boundaries and go there. They have to pass a gate that tells you in no uncertain terms what you're getting into.

"Ninety-five percent of the time it's perfectly safe to do, and the rest of the time it's not," he said.

Tyson Schwab was near the Ninety-nine-90 lift just north of Dutch's Draw when he heard a thump and a rumble and turned to witness the avalanche. "All you could see was white and mist," he said. "It was like a fog just rolled in."

From KUTV-Channel 2's helicopter, searchers and dogs could be seen slogging through the slide, the tips of pine trees poking through the snow. Edmunds said the searchers were spending the evening fashioning probes 10 feet longer than the standard 20 feet.

Dean Cardinale of Wasatch Backcountry Rescue and the Snowbird Ski Patrol, said dogs from at least six Wasatch Front ski resorts had been called in, and Wasatch Powder Guides flew teams to The Canyons from Snowbird and Alta, where another backcountry avalanche was reported. Officials flew over that slide and declared it clear, he said.

Before the searchers took to the mountain, he said, other helicopters dropped explosive charges to release any remaining dangerous snow.

"The number one concern is the safety of the rescuers," Cardinale said. "They were not involved in the decision the people were making to be in that area at that time. We can't complicate the rescue with the possibility of another slide hitting the rescue team."

Edmunds also implored outdoor enthusiasts to stay out of the back country in Summit County because all of his resources are focused on the avalanche.

"You are coming into some very perilous country," he said. "We are asking you not to come in."

This isn't the first time a deadly snow slide has struck in the area. In January 2000, Greg and Loren Mackay, who lived in the nearby Snyderville Basin, died in an avalanche below Square Top Mountain, another out of bounds area also accessible from the Ninety-Nine-90 chairlift. The next winter, Sharon Reinfurt also died below Square Top while on a family vacation from New Hampshire.

The Canyons reopens for business today.

Brent Harkins, 17, of Lake Forest, Ill., said he and a friend would be skiing today and Sunday and would ride Ninety-nine-90. He said they had considered going off resort runs, but "that's out of our heads now."