Detailed Accident Report

Back to accidents page

Date: 2006-02-14
Submitted By: WWAN
Place: Rainy Pass; Dalzell Creek, in the Alaska Range
State: AK
Country: USA
Fatalities: 1
Summary: 1 snowmobiler caught, buried, and killed.

02/24/06

Richard Strick Jr. was recovered by Search and Rescue Teams.

A report will be posted when available.

**MEDIA REPORTS**

Please visit: www.adn.com

*Avalanche buries Iditarod worker*

*DALZELL GORGE: McGrath man missing; unstable snow stalls search.*

By CRAIG MEDRED

Anchorage Daily News

(Published: February 16, 2006)

A goodwill trip to pioneer the route for the upcoming Iditarod Trail

Sled Dog Race turned tragic Tuesday when snowmobiler Richard Strick Jr.

was swept away by an avalanche near Pass Fork in the Alaska Range.

A longtime Iditarod volunteer, the 46-year-old McGrath man was at the

head of a string of four or five snowmobiles that had worked their way

up through the Dalzell Gorge and were heading for Rainy Pass when the

avalanche hit, said Stan Hooley, Iditarod executive director.

Efforts to launch a search for Strick on Wednesday were hampered by

fears of unstable snow still hanging from the 2,000-foot ridges above

the route traditionally followed by the Iditarod Trail.

Mark Nordman, the race's liaison with rural communities and a veteran

Iditarod musher, learned of the accident when snowmobiler Steve Graham

called from the remote Rohn checkpoint "in the middle of the night on a

sat (satellite) phone with dying batteries.''

Graham, another longtime Iditarod volunteer, asked Nordman to arrange to

get more food and fuel flown into the Rohn checkpoint to support a

search. Alaska State Troopers, Nordman said, later vetoed a search for

fear another avalanche might bury more people.

The troopers, Nordman said, were adamant "that nobody goes up there.''

"Troopers are currently strongly advising against any ground searches in

the area due to continuing unstable snow loads and extreme avalanche

danger,'' spokesman Greg Wilkinson said Wednesday

That conclusion, he added, was reached after aerial reconnaissance was

conducted in the area overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday.

Shortly after troopers learned of the avalanche at around 6 p.m.

Tuesday, Wilkinson said, they notified the Alaska Air National Guard,

which launched an HC-130 aircraft and a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter with

pararescue personnel and members of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group and

Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs.

"The team was able to complete some aerial recon but were not able to

land,'' Wilkinson said.

"According to information from the fly-over, an avalanche approximately

250 feet wide, 100 feet long and 4 to 5 feet deep swept down the face of

the mountain and is believed to have pushed Mr. Strick off the trail

into the gorge where he was buried under approximately 30 feet of snow,"

he said.

Strick is an experienced Bush traveler. A maintenance man for the

Iditarod School District, he has traveled all over the Interior to keep

schools up and running. He has also volunteered countless hours for the

Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and the Iron Dog race breaking winter

trails out by snowmobile for hundreds of miles north from McGrath as far

as Ruby on the Yukon River and south from McGrath as far as Finger Lake

on the south side of the Alaska Range.

Friends said he had no children but had an extended Bush family. His

mother and father and a brother live in McGrath. He has a sister upriver

on the Kuskokwim in Nikolai and other relatives throughout the region.

Strick was once a competitor in the Iron Dog with teammate Allan

Anderson, owner of the well-known McGuire's Tavern in McGrath. He had

been helping out at the Rohn checkpoint as the Iron Dog racers roared

north earlier this week. He and a handful of others who managed the

remote, mountain outpost for that race had closed the checkpoint and

planned to break out the Iditarod Trail back to Puntilla Lake at the

south end of Rainy Pass.

Though the Iron Dog largely follows the same trail to Nome as the

Iditarod dogs, the one big detour it makes is going out of Puntilla in

the Alaska Range. The snowmobilers dogleg south and then west through

Ptarmigan Pass and Hellsgate, then down the South Fork Kuskokwim River

to Rohn. The route adds 45 miles but avoids historically dangerous

avalanche areas.

Though there has never been an avalanche during an Iditarod race, there

have been years when mushers had to cross broad rubble fields left by

avalanches, and there are records of dog drivers being caught in

avalanches in Rainy Pass back when the Iditarod was a traditional mail

route.

Avalanche fears during the 1985 Iditarod race were so high that race

officials asked pilots to avoid the area for fear vibrations from

airplane engines could trigger a slide.

Snow conditions in Rainy Pass this week were horrendous, said Eric

Johnson of Skwentna.

"It was the ugliest snow I've ever seen,'' he said. "There was 5 to 7

feet of sugar. This snow, there was no consistency to it.''

Riding a super-wide-track snowmobile designed especially for going

through deep snow, he sometimes had to hold the throttle wide open just

to progress at a few miles per hour, Johnson said. Behind him, he said,

the machine left a packed trail, but it was still so soft that a man

would sink to his waist.

The worst part, he said, was that all of the snow had fallen in the

space of two and a half to three days, setting the stage for avalanches

that could be triggered by almost anything.

The Iditarod's Hooley, himself an avid snowmobiler, said the accident is

a reminder of the dangers that lurk so close in the Alaska wilderness.

"It's Alaska,'' he said. "That's an oversimplification. I don't mean to

be callous, but this is a reminder of what a wild place this is. The

potential exists. Tragically, this looks as though it has claimed

somebody who is part of the tight-knit McGrath community."

*Snow slide buries Iditarod trail volunteer*

By CRAIG MEDRED

Anchorage Daily News

(Published: February 15, 2006)

A goodwill trip to pioneer the route for the upcoming Iditarod Trail

Sled Dog Race turned tragic Tuesday when snowmobiler Richard Strick Jr.

was swept away by an avalanche near Pass Fork in the Alaska Range.

A long-time Iditarod volunteer, the 46-year-old McGrath man was at the

head of a string of four or five snowmobiles that had worked their way

up through the Dalzell Gorge and were heading for Rainy Pass when the

avalanche hit, said Stan Hooley, Iditarod executive director.

Efforts to launch a search for Strick on Wednesday were hampered by

fears off unstable snow still hanging from the 2000-foot ridges above

the route traditionally followed by the Iditarod Trail.

Mark Nordman, the race's liaison with rural communities and a veteran

Iditarod musher, learned of the accident when snowmobiler Steve Graham

called from the remote Rohn checkpoint "in the middle of the night on a

sat (satellite) phone with dying batteries."

Graham, another long time Iditarod volunteer, asked Nordman to arrange

to get more food and fuel flown into the Rohn checkpoint to support a

search. Alaska State Troopers, Nordman said, later vetoed a search for

fear another avalanche might bury more people.

The troopers, Nordman said, were adamant "that nobody goes up there."

"Troopers are currently strongly advising against any ground searches in

the area due to continuing unstable snowloads and extreme avalanche

danger," spokesman Greg Wilkinson said on Wednesday

That conclusion, he added, was reached after aerial reconnaissance was

done in the area overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday.

Shortly after troopers learned of the avalanche at around 6 p.m.,

Tuesday, Wilkinson said, they notified the Alaska Air National Guard

which launched an HC-130 aircraft and a HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter with

pararescue personnel and members of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group and

Alaska Search and Rescue Dogs.

"The team was able to complete some aerial recon but were not able to

land," Wilkinson said.

"According to information from the fly-over, an avalanche approximately

250-feet wide, 100-feet long and 4- to 5-feet deep swept down the face

of the mountain and is believed to have pushed Mr. Strick off the trail

into the gorge where he was buried under approximately 30 feet of snow."

Strick is an experienced Bush traveler. A maintenance man for the

Iditarod School District, he has traveled all over the Interior to keep

schools up and running. He has also volunteered countless hours for the

Iditarod and the Iron Dog breaking winter trails out by snowmobile for

hundreds of miles north from McGrath as far as Ruby on the Yukon River

and south from McGrath as far as Finger Lake on the south side of the

Alaska Range.

Friends said he had no children but had an extended Bush family. His

mother and father and a brother live in McGrath. He has a sister upriver

on the Kuskokwim in Nikolai, and other relatives throughout the region.

Strick was once a competitor in the Iron Dog with team mate Allan

Anderson, owner of the well-known McGuire's Tavern in McGrath. He had

been helping out at the Rohn checkpoint as the Iron Dog racers roared

north earlier this week. He and a handful of others who managed the

remote, mountain outpost for that race had closed the checkpoint and

planned to break out the Iditarod Trail back to Puntilla Lake at the

south end of Rainy Pass.

Though the Iron Dog largely follows the same trail to Nome as the

Iditarod dogs, the one big detour it makes is going out of Puntilla in

the Alaska Range. The snowmobilers dogleg south and then west through

Ptarmigan Pass and Hellsgate, then down the South Fork Kuskokwim River

to Rohn. The route adds 45 miles, but avoids historically dangerous

avalanche areas.

Though there has never been an avalanche during an Iditarod race, there

have been years when mushers had to cross broad rubble fields left by

avalanches, and there are records of dog drivers being caught in

avalanches in Rainy Pass back when the Iditarod was a traditional mail

route.

Avalanches fears during the 1985 Iditarod race were so high race

officials asked pilots to avoid the area for fear vibrations from

airplane engines could trigger a slide.

Snow conditions in the Rainy Pass this week were horrendous, said Eric

Johnson of Skwentna.

"It was the ugliest snow I've ever seen," Eric said. "There was 5- to

7-feet of sugar. This snow, there was no consistency to it."

Riding a super-wide-track snowmobile designed especially for going

through deep snow, Eric said, he sometimes had to hold the throttle wide

open just to progress at a few miles per hour. Behind him, he said, the

machine left a packed trail, but it was still so soft that a man would

sink to his waist.

The worst part, he said, was that all of the snow had fallen in the

space of two and a half to three days, setting the stage for avalanches

that could be triggered by almost anything.

The Iditarod's Hooley, himself an avid snowmobiler, said the accident is

a reminder of the dangers that lurk so close in the Alaska wilderness.

"It's Alaska," he said. "That an oversimplification. I don't mean to be

callous, but this is a reminder of what a wild place this is. The

potential exists. Tragically, this looks as though it has claimed

somebody who is part of the tight-knit McGrath community."