ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A skier was rescued from a massive avalanche that buried him for as many as 40 minutes Saturday near the site where another slide killed two snowmobilers earlier this month.
Ian Wilson of Portland, Ore., was blue and unresponsive when he was pulled out from 4 feet of snow, but was able to talk before he was transported to an Anchorage hospital, Alaska State Troopers said. The 24-year-old, who was vacationing in Alaska, was later discharged from the hospital, said Lt. Barry Wilson, the statewide search and rescue coordinator.
"It has been an exciting, exciting day," said Wilson, who is not related to the skier. "Nobody died from this latest incident."
The avalanche was reported just five minutes after searchers recovered the body of Christoph Vonalvensleben, 25, one of the snowmobilers killed in the Feb. 15 avalanche in backcountry about 65 miles outside Anchorage.
State transportation workers assisting in the recovery effort saw the avalanche and notified troopers around 2:15 p.m., Wilson said. Within five minutes, volunteer rescuers and search dogs were heading to the new avalanche site three miles away. By the time they arrived, the buried skier, who was wearing a locator beacon, had been found by other skiers, including a medic with the U.S. Forestry Service, Wilson said.
"It was a perfect storm of help," he said. "The odds were in this person's favor for survival."
As many as 25 skiers were in the area of the avalanche, but only one other skier was hit. The skier was knocked down by the slide's powder blast, but not completely submerged in the deep snow.
"He was not hurt as far as I know," Wilson said.
Poor weather had prevented rescuers from recovering Vonalvensleben's body. Also killed in that slide was Jeremy Stark, 25, whose body was recovered Wednesday by a group of friends.
The Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center had warned that avalanche conditions continued in the area.
The recovery effort on Saturday included using explosives to bring down hazardous snowpacks for the safety of searchers, troopers said. Wilson said the explosives were set off four hours before the avalanche and were not considered the cause.
Troopers had warned that the explosives could trigger slides on nearby slopes and urged the public to stay clear of the area.
Avalanches have killed at least 32 people across the West since Dec. 2, according to the U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center.