Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2005-03-31
Submitted By: UAC
Place: Monte Cristo area about 20 miles west of Woodruff
State: UT
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and killed



On Thursday March 31st a group of five snowmobilers left the Monte Cristo trailhead, located near Ogden, Utah, for a day of snowmobiling. The terrain is relatively benign and is an area many locals go to when there is an avalanche danger on nearby steep, climbing hills. The group was very familiar with the terrain and was thinking about the avalanche conditions, though didn?t check the local advisory and never attended a class. They were all wearing beacons, shovels, and probes; however no one had ever practiced with the gear. Four of the riders stopped on top of a slope just to the south of ?Whiskey Hill?. The fifth sledder and avalanche victim passed by them, and much to everyone?s surprise began descending a steep adjacent slope to the south, named Eccles Peak.

The snowmobiler was only about 20? onto the slope when he propagated a large avalanche, HS-AM-R3-D3-O. The slide occurred on a northeast facing slope, at about 9,000? in elevation. The slope was convex with a 38 degree starting zone and a 43-45 degree mid slope break over. The crown averaged 4? in depth, was 500-600? wide, and ran about 400? vertically. The weak layer was facets formed during our late February- early March dry spell.

One of the members of the party drove to the top of the slope, got off his machine and ran down the bed surface while the rest of the party approached from the bottom of the slope. Within a matter of minutes the fellow descending the slope pinpointed the victim in a tight group of trees and within 7 or 8 minutes the party had the victim dug out. He wasn?t conscious or breathing and cpr was performed. At approx. 10:51 a cell phone call was made to 911 and both the Rich County Sheriff and Life Flight responded. While a coroners report was not yet available, it seems that massive chest trauma was the cause of death.

The Wasatch Range had recently experienced a significant storm cycle with the final storm beginning on Tuesday March 29th and ending early Thursday morning the 30th. The closest Snotel sight reported nearly 2? of water. Winds had been out of the west and northwest throughout the storm with hourly averages in the 20?s and 30?s and gusts near 50 mph. The slope was heavily loaded by wind transported snow off a flat, broad ridge just west of the accident site. The avalanche danger was rated as Considerable for this type of terrain. This is Utah?s 8th avalanche fatality and third snowmobile fatality this year.

Here's photos of the accident site:


Avalanche kills man in Rich County

Brighton patrol reports lots of slides in Big Cottonwood

By Joseph M. Dougherty and Wendy Leonard

Deseret Morning News

A 27-year-old Farr West man was killed Thursday after he was caught in an avalanche in Rich County ? he was the latest such death in the deadliest snow season since the 1950s.

Ski patrol at Brighton Ski Resort also reported avalanches through most of the day in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Several were triggered by out-of-bounds skiers, but none was life-threatening.

The Rich County avalanche was witnessed by a group of four snowmobile riders on Whiskey Hill, a popular destination near Monte Cristo about 20 miles west of Woodruff. At 10:51 a.m., a man within the group called 911 to report an avalanche that trapped one person, Rich County Sheriff Dale Stacey said.

An AirMed helicopter crew and sheriff's deputies on snowmobiles responded, but it was only to recover the man's body, Stacey said. The man's name was not available, as family were still being notified.

The man's death brought the 2004-05 season's total to eight, the highest since the 1950s, when official records were started. Utah averages 3 1/2 avalanche fatalities a year, according to Bruce Tremper, director of the U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center.

In this case, the man's friends saw the avalanche, and because he was wearing a beacon, they were able to find him next to a tree, where it took seven minutes to dig him out. They tried to revive him but were not successful.

Although the cause of the man's death wasn't clear Thursday, 25 percent of people who are killed in avalanches die from trauma of hitting trees and boulders, Tremper said.

There have been a few avalanches this season in the Monte Cristo area, Stacey said, but there hadn't been any injuries or fatalities.

Tremper said he couldn't think of a single fatality on record at Monte Cristo. Most of the mountain is benign, he said. But Whiskey Hill is steeper and more prone to slides.

People can expect avalanche danger to continue while temperatures increase, Tremper said. Thursday's avalanche forecast stated there was considerable risk for avalanches ? a lower level from Wednesday's forecast, which was high.

Considerable risk is still dangerous, he said. It means human-triggered slides are probable.

Such was the case with the handful of slides up Big Cottonwood Canyon. Patrol workers noticed several skiers triggering slides of all sizes all day long.

Police were notified of a possible victim in the slides near Brighton when a backcountry skier saw human tracks going in and none coming out after witnessing a large slide near Wolverine Cirque, just south of the the top of the north lift at Brighton. Salt Lake County Sheriff's Sgt. Todd Griffiths said search-and-rescue operations were in full effect until nightfall.

"They searched everything they could without putting the search and rescue officers in danger," he said.

The search was called off after there was no indication anyone was involved in the slide. Griffiths said they tried several methods in order to be confident no one was out there. They searched for debris that might have been scattered in the slide, tested for any active beacons and even ran the avalanche dogs over the areas where drifts were too dangerous for searchers to cross.

"Some areas, of course, the danger was too great," Griffiths said. He said they were unable to confirm anyone was trapped in the slides and unless they get a report of a missing person, the search will not be continued tomorrow. He said the condition of the mountain was "very dangerous," as numerous slides are happening under the pressure of changing weather patterns.

However, Tremper said the slides, until yesterday, were expected to be dry slides because of the snow's low water content. As temperatures increase today, he said avalanches will likely be wetter as a result of the melting snow, which becomes heavier as water content increases.

Most avalanches happen during storms, but most accidents happen on the first sunny day after a storm, he said.

"The sunshine makes us feel good, but the snowpack doesn't have the same opinion," Tremper said.

He warned that people should continue to stay away from ungroomed hills with slopes between 35 and 45 degrees.