"It was a miracle"—Man who saved hiker buried in Alaska avalanche recounts rescue

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — A vigilant hiker who discovered another hiker trapped in debris from an avalanche near Flattop in Anchorage on Saturday says he just happened upon the man buried head down with his legs sticking up from the snow.

Alex Kuprienko, who rescued a man buried in an avalanche near Anchorage's Flattop on Saturday, surveys the avalanche site. Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019 (KTUU)

Alex Kuprienko of Anchorage told Channel 2 on Sunday that he was out for a hike around 2 p.m. Saturday when he saw something odd in a field of fresh avalanche debris.

"Honestly at first I thought it was a kid playing around in the snow, didn't think much of it," Kuprienko said.

But with nobody else in sight, he decided to take a closer look.

"It wasn't just adding up," Kuprienko said. "I went up, and sure enough, there was a guy buried in the snow with his legs sticking up. So he was on his back, face up, but obviously head down into the snow."

A post from the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center says the victim’s head was 2 to 3 feet below ice and snow chunks large enough to provide air pockets for the victim to breathe.

"It was a miracle because I looked up just the time that he raised his legs up, because otherwise, I would have just missed him."

Once Kuprienko realized what he was seeing and the urgency of the situation set in, he quickly got to work.

"I didn't have my gloves on, and I didn't want to waste time putting them on, so I just kind of went to town digging him out. So obviously my hands were kind of frozen at some point. I figure he feels much worse than I do, so I didn't want to stop and get my gloves on."

But as he worked to free the man from the snow, another question plagued him — was the man alone?

"I was afraid that he wasn't alone and that somebody else was there that I can't even see. I was scanning the debris, trying to figure out if there was anybody else or any kind of gloves or ... hats or something like that."

Kuprienko says the man was buried in the snow for over an hour.

It took him about five minutes to free the man, according to the Avalanche Information Center.

"I couldn't believe it when I pulled him out," Kuprienko said.

He says the man was dressed appropriately for the weather and conditions, but his layers were soaked through.

"The victim was alive, conscious, very cold and hypothermic," according to the CNFAIC post.

Once the man was freed from the packed snow and ice, Kuprienko called 911 and assisted him to the Glen Alps parking lot Anchorage Fire Department paramedics were waiting, according to the Avalanche Information Center.

Kuprienko, who says he's taken an avalanche awareness course, hopes this story will inspire others to do the same. He says his training is what alerted him to something amiss.

"They teach you a lot. That's why I was scanning the avalanche debris that I saw that just happened recently," Kuprienko said of his avalanche awareness training. "Obviously it doesn't happen in 99.9 percent of them, but just like yesterday, you might pull that ticket."

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