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beall 01-11-2013 06:23 AM

Agonising avalanche rescue caught on camera
Just browsing the news and came across this video. Quite scary been in this guy's situation. If this has been posted somewhere here, mod please delete this.

Agonising avalanche rescue caught on camera |

wrathfuldeity 01-11-2013 07:07 AM

Seems like a darn fine rescue, all things considered. Digger had his face uncovered at 3:28...which imho is very fast and well within an acceptable time.

Tarzanman 01-11-2013 07:31 AM


Originally Posted by wrathfuldeity (Post 567442)
Seems like a darn fine rescue, all things considered. Digger had his face uncovered at 3:28...which imho is very fast and well within an acceptable time.

This rescue has been ripped apart on more than a few other forums. The general consensus is that this group got very lucky despite some mistakes made before and during the rescue.

The first time I saw it myself the two things that stuck out in my mind is that the guy with the camera didn't have a beacon himself and also how long it took the female in the blue jacket to find her beacon/take her jacket off.

Hindsight is 20/20, and I am not in a position to critique a rescue since I have zero SAR training... but here is what the guy who posted the video had to say:


"I know that our party, the party involved in the December 29th incident on Echo Peak, made numerous mistakes. I chose to make the helmet cam video available to Sierra Avalanche Center so that others could learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. As the leader of the party, I take full credit for all of the mistakes and want to document what I've learned from them.

The first mistake was taking an inexperienced, ill-equipped group into the backcountry. Every member of the party should have been carrying a beacon, probe, and shovel. Additionally every member of the party should have been trained in avalanche safety. We only had two complete kits among our party of five, carried by the female skier in the video and by me, the skier who was caught in the slide. The other three members of the party were complete novices in the backcountry, able to ski black diamonds at a resort, but with no experience out of bounds. As the party leader, I should never have taken the group up Echo Peak, but I let the party's excitement about the day sway my decision. I made a bad decision.

The second mistake I made was allowing the excitement in the group to override sound decision making. Two of the inexperienced members of the party had never summited Echo. Safety and snow pack conditions dictated turning the group around at tree line and descending the ridge crest. However, I let emotion make the decision and allowed the party to continue above tree line to the summit. This decision required descending the slope directly above the ridge terminus. A slope that I knew was prone to sliding under the right circumstances, and having kept abreast of conditions, I knew conditions were conducive to an an avalanche. Again, I made a bad decision.

We skied one at a time from the crest to a safe zone in the trees at the start of the ridge proper, but I made my third mistake by choosing to ski a line slightly skier's left of the safest line to the meeting point in the trees. The female skier in the group asked that I not ski that line, but I let my emotions once again get the better of me. The several turns in untracked snow on a 45 degree slope were just too tempting. My intentions were to ski to skier's left of the large rocks where the slide released from, then veer hard to skier's right and meet the party on the ridge. I knew that the slope was convex. I knew that there was a rock band below my intended route. My thoughts were, "I've skied this line before. It's only a few turns." I made a very bad decision. Fortunately I have been able to kick myself repeatedly for it.

Once the slope let go, I was helpless. Everything I'd ever heard, read, or talked about went through my mind. Stay on top. Get your feet downhill. Backstroke. Remember to create an air pocket when the slide slows. Punch a hand towards the sky. The truth is that I was at the mercy of the snow. I went over the rock step head first on my back. Fortunately, I didn't crater on impact and end up buried by the rest of the snow as it came over the edge. Instead, I was rag dolled out of my crater and ended up somehow close to the surface. I was able to punch one fist upward as the slide slowed, but otherwise was completely unable to move. Everything was black and the urge to panic was overwhelming. After repeatedly telling myself to calm down, I was able to clear an airway with my free hand. Then all I could do was wait. I was very lucky.

Much has been made on various forums about the way that the skier with the helmet cam handled the rescue. He has been flamed for taking his gloves off, for telling the female skier with the beacon to take her time in transitioning the gear to him, for not putting the handle in the shovel, ad infinitum. The truth is, I am proud of the way he, a novice at avalanche rescue, handled the situation. He knew that the female skier was panicking and had to keep her calm. He knew that the whole party shouldn't descend to the burial site. He left two people on the ridge to watch the hangfire. Then he descended to the burial site with a partner, one at a time, in a controlled manner. In debriefing after the incident, we discussed what he could have done differently. It goes without saying that he should have left his gloves on. Other than that, there are two possible scenarios. First scenario:Once the skier in the black jacket had located my glove above the debris, the one unburied probe and beacon should have been left on the ridge. That way a beacon/probe search could have been initiated in the case of a secondary avalanche burying the rescue party. Second scenario: My glove was located above the debris, but what if my hand wasn't in it? Seen from 100 meters away, it was impossible to tell. If the beacon and probe were left on the ridge, that would have led to additional delays in getting the rescue gear to the burial and would have put one more skier in the path of a secondary release. As for the unassembled shovel, I have to take credit for that mistake. I should have made sure that the entire party knew where the rescue gear was located and how to assemble it before ever leaving the trailhead. Finally, my rescuer didn't relinquish shoveling duties to his partner once his hands started to freeze. He could have either taken the time to get gloves on his wet hands, or asked the skier in the black jacket to continue digging while he warmed his hands.

I'm sure that there are many more lessons to learn from this incident. That is the reason that I chose to let Sierra Avalanche Center make the video public. My hope was that I would receive constructive criticism and maybe force other people to review their decisions and the process by which they make those decisions. I knew that we would be flamed for our mistakes, but I'll take the flames if my mistakes will help keep others safe. My hope also is that all of the flaming does not discourage others from making public their mistakes, so that we, the backcountry community, can learn from each other. We all make mistakes, some of us more than others, I am sure, but we all make mistakes. I've watched countless avalanche videos and thought, "What an idiot!" "Why'd the dude do that?" or "That guy is completely clueless." Guess this time I'm the idiot and the clueless one. Hopefully, because I chose to share this video, you won't be the clueless one if or when things go wrong."

mojo maestro 01-11-2013 07:44 AM homie's buried....can I borrow your beacon? Just give me your whole pack. Anyone seen the handle for this shovel? Can I borrow your gloves? Freakin' gloves don't fit........why are your hands so small? My fingers are cold......relax bro.....your fine! Wrap the pole strap around your wrist and i"ll pull you out. Huh.....I'm tired of diggin' and my hands are's a handleless shovel so you can dig yourself out!:WTF:

killclimbz 01-11-2013 09:19 AM

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I have yet to watch this video, but it has been going around and around for a couple of weeks now.

Bottom line is they did rescue the victim alive. Ultimately that is your goal. Were they in over their heads? Evidently. Hopefully it gets them to take a course and get some formal training. It really does help. If they had some basic education, this accident may not have happened in the first place. Which is what you want to happen every time you go out. Once you are in a rescue situation, you have done a lot of things wrong. Then the rescue becomes your last chance to avoid heart break. Not recommended to get to that point.

linvillegorge 01-11-2013 09:49 AM

The things that they did right were remaining calm and keeping an eye on the skiier caught. The dude with the camera may not have had a beacon, but he did have a head on his shoulders and kept the girl from freaking the fuck out which was exactly where she was headed.

Like killclimbz said, the end goal was achiever - the victim was found and rescued alive in short order. Hopefully they'll learn a lot of lessons from this one. The next one might not end up so pleasant.

ShredLife 01-11-2013 10:46 AM


Originally Posted by Snowolf (Post 568049)
One thing that I think bears mentioning too is that until you are actually in the real deal, none of knows for sure how we will perform. It is easy to sit safely and comfortably in our arm chairs in front of a computer and judge.

this was a shit show. 2 sets of equipment for 5 people? stay the fuck home - you have no business in the backcountry if that is how you plan to go out there. this group ONLY got extremely lucky that the victim wasn't completely buried, caught in something a few cubic meters larger, happened to be one of the two with a beacon... on and on.

complete shit show. i have absolutely NO problems sitting comfortably on my couch the day after i rode bc the right way with two complete beginners. we were all equipped, we dug pits, we talked about the terrain and the hazards, etc, etc.

these fools got lucky. period.

killclimbz 01-11-2013 10:53 AM

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Better lucky than dead.

ShredLife 01-11-2013 11:01 AM

oh for sure - so this group better go buy a few lottery tickets and stay down in town and read some books, take some classes, and drop a few bucks before they think about going back out to the bc.

mixie 01-11-2013 11:34 AM


Originally Posted by Snowolf (Post 568049)
One thing that I think bears mentioning too is that until you are actually in the real deal, none of knows for sure how we will perform. It is easy to sit safely and comfortably in our arm chairs in front of a computer and judge.

I just took a basic class on beacon basics and doing practice searches in the beacon basin. Even though we were practicing doing rescues in small groups it makes you realize shit gets real, really fast. We had a group of six and by the time we got organized and started searching we were finding the beacons in under 15 minutes.

This was with a very experienced guide and the beacons weren't buried all that deep, not even 3meters. Had they been people and not beacons, we most likely would have been digging up bodies. :(

I know I won't be heading out on bc trips without a LOT more practice in the basin, and an Avy 1 class. AND with a partner I know has practiced as well.

The class I took was pretty close to where this incident happened (Thanks Eastern Sierra Avy Center!!) and our guide specifically talked about this incident and what could have happened had both beacons been buried. He really drilled into us that EVERY person in your party needs a Beacon, Shovel, Probe and the know how to use them at a BARE MINIMUM.

Every single person in the class was pretty shocked that a group would go out unprepared, however that's why we were all in a Beacon/Companion Rescue class I suppose and not being stupid out in the bc.

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