Three snowmobilers who were caught in a deadly North Idaho avalanche had the proper rescue gear and training, including avalanche airbags, according to an investigation by the nonprofit Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center.
The information comes from an on-the-ground investigation conducted by IPAC forecasters and interviews with the survivors of the avalanche.
Two snowmobilers recovered the body of their companion, locating him within minutes using their avalanche beacons. However, he was buried under more than 12 feet of snow, despite having deployed an avalanche air bag. Avalanche airbags fill with air when a cord is pulled with the hopes of keeping the person at or near the top of the snow.
It took an hour for the two rescuers to reach the man, identified by authorities as Ron Sink.
According to IPAC, on Saturday Feb. 27, four snowmobilers headed to the East Fork Nine Mile drainage, near North Idaho’s Tiger Peak. Around 3:45 p.m., the group of four reached the end of a road near the north slope of Custer Peak. Three of the men headed up through the trees and entered an open area on the north slope of Custer Peak.
They stayed close to the trees. However, shortly after entering the cleared slope on Custer Peak, an avalanche struck. One of the three men was able to ride into the trees and avoid the avalanche. The other two were caught. Both deployed their avalanche airbags. One was only partially buried and was able to extract himself.
Once the slide ended, both men raced to where they’d last seen Sink and started searching for him using handheld transceivers. They also called 911 and, soon after, a friend in Spokane. He snowmobiled in, arriving about 1.5 hours after the avalanche.
Despite locating Sink’s burial spot, they were unable to save him. When an avalanche stops moving, the once liquid-like snow takes on the consistency of cement.
Once they reached Sink, one of the men performed CPR for about 30 minutes.
At this point, the friend from Spokane had arrived. Together, the three men drove Sink’s body out to the trailhead, where search and rescue was staged.
“The avalanche was a hard slab avalanche in an open riding area that had a start zone area in the low to mid 30 degrees,” states the IPAC report. “The open area is flanked by mature timber and funnels down to mature timber. Multiple 8-inch diameter trees were broken in the path of the avalanche and flagging occurred on larger timber that remained standing at the bottom of the slide path. The slide path ranged from 20 feet to 1,350 feet at its longest length. Debris from the middle of the crown to the right flank ran the furthest of this extent.”
The two survivors declined to be interviewed but asked The Spokesman-Review to report on the IPAC findings.
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