Detailed Accident Report

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Date: 2010-03-19
Submitted By: CAIC
Place: Southwest of Creede
State: CO
Country: USA
Fatalities: 2
Summary: 2 people caught and killed in a roof avalanche

*** OFFICIAL REPORT FROM THE CAIC ***

Link to report with photo: avalanche.state.co.us

AVALANCHE COMMENTS

Entire northeast facing roof avalanched. Roof material was metal. Gable style roof. The southwest facing portion of the roof which is much less steep and heavily shaded by trees did not slide.

WEATHER SUMMARY

The area received above average snowfall during the 2009-2010 accumulation season(see Snowpack Summary). Between March 10 and March 18 the Grayback SNOTEL site received 1.1 inches of precipitation.

SNOWPACK SUMMARY

It has been a snowy winter in the local area. The nearby snowpack is about 1m deep with the lower half cohesionless faceted grains. At the nearby Upper Rio Grande SNOTEL site, snowpack water content is 152% of average (the highest percentage in the state) and accumulated precipitation is 107% of average. The local weather has transitioned to spring-like conditions with warmer temps in the last two weeks.

EVENTS LEADING TO AVALANCHE

Both persons were below the roof with shovels when the accident occurred. There were no witnesses.

ACCIDENT SUMMARY

There were not witnesses to this accident.

RESCUE SUMMARY

First rescuers (2) arrived in the dark and had to hike in on an unplowed driveway about 150 yds. Initial rescuers inspected home and property for signs of missing persons. At the time it was not known that a roof avalanche was the problem. Third rescuer located subject 1 with spot probe almost immediately upon arrival near the north end of the deck. Subject 2 was located shortly thereafter about 10' away toward the south end of the deck.

COMMENTS

There are no witnesses to the accident. This description is based on observations of rescuers, and the best guess of the investigators. Two people went to inspect a summer home. They intended to do some snow removal around the home and carried large scoop shovels. The house has a northeast facing deck that looks over the Rio Grande River. The roof does not extend over the deck. They circled the house and were walking on snow piled on the deck (depth above the short deck railing) when the entire northeast facing roof released. They most likely had little time to react to the avalanche. The edge of the roof was 1 to 2 feet away from them and a little above waist high. They either leapt for safety off the deck or were immediately knocked off the deck and both buried prone with their heads downhill in the direction of the avalanche flow. They were not carried downhill in the avalanche flow. They were buried where they fell or leapt off the deck.

*** MEDIA REPORT ***

www.denverpost.com

<B>Two San Luis Valley water leaders killed when snow slides off of roof</B>

By Heather McWilliams

The Denver Post

Posted: 03/21/2010 01:00:00 AM MDT

Updated: 03/21/2010 11:08:25 AM MDT

Ray Wright, 56, was board president for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. He died with Doug Shriver, 53, chair of the Rio Grande Water Users Association. Two San Luis Valley water leaders were killed in a freak accident when snow slid off the roof of a cabin near Creede and buried them.

Ray Wright, board president for the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, and Doug Shriver, chairman of the Rio Grande Water Users Association, died Friday after being smothered by the falling snow, said Mineral County coroner Charles Downing.

"The snow slid off . . . all at once and caught them," Downing said, describing the incident as avalanche deaths.

The two were apparently cleaning snow from the roof and around the cabin when the slide occurred, Downing said. Autopsies are scheduled for Monday.

Wright and Shriver, both from Monte Vista, headed to the cabin located "up the river from Creede" in the San Juan Mountains about 8:30 or 9 Friday morning, Downing said. When they didn't return by evening, their concerned wives asked a friend to check on them, Downing said. Unable to see much at the cabin, the friend called the sheriff. A local search-and-rescue team was then dispatched.

"I believe they actually found them somewhere between 9:30 (p.m.) and 10 (p.m.)," Downing said. He pronounced the two dead at 11:53 p.m. Friday.

Heavy snowfall in recent months likely contributed to the accident, Downing said, with totals in the area nearing 50 inches. He estimated the cabin roof held 2.5 feet of snow.

Lewis H. Entz served with Wright on the Rio Grande Water Conservation District board. He's known both Wright and Shriver their whole lives, he said, and calls them "water buffaloes," a nickname for those who work to protect the state's water.

"They were good neighbors, good farmers and good water people," Entz said. "As far as I know, nobody ever had anything but good to say about them."

Entz heard about the deaths in an e-mail on Saturday morning, he said, and word of the tragedy spread quickly through the area.

"We're all in a daze here," Entz said.

Wright, 56,and Shriver, 53, had ties to many in the Colorado water-rights community.

"Both of them were real water leaders in the San Luis Valley," said Douglas Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress. He's known the two for years and called Wright and Shriver hard-working and knowledgeable.

"Both had agricultural backgrounds, and both were strong supporters of the Valley when dealing with complex issues," Kemper said.

Entz, who served in the Colorado legislature for 22 years, worked with Wright and Shriver in a variety of water organizations. Next meeting, he'll face two empty seats.

"It's a great loss to the San Luis Valley as a whole," Entz said. "We just can't believe it happened. It's a crazy thing."