ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A final report by an avalanche safety group gives more detail about what happened last week when an avalanche killed an experienced snowmachine rider near Whittier Wednesday, May 2.
The avalanche near Blackstone Glacier killed 41-year-old Chad Christman of Anchorage.
A report by the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Center found that Christman, an experienced rider familiar with the area, was headed back to the trailhead along with a second person. After Christman and that rider headed down into a gully, a third rider rode up the same gully and side-hilled above the two.
The report says with the three snowmachines close to each other on the slope, it’s unclear where exactly the avalanche was triggered.
A fourth rider saw the avalanche happen, and says he saw Christman and the other rider who had been heading down the gully disappear and reappear in the sliding debris. The other rider was able to pin the throttle and ended up still on his machine near the toe of the avalanche, buried up to his armpits and neck with one free hand – he was able to dig himself out in less than a minute.
Once free, the report says, he spotted the third rider, who had been riding up the gully, on the surface of the avalanche with his airbag backpack deployed, and Christman’s glove above the surface and still moving.
That rider was able to dig toward Christman’s face, and clear snow from his mouth within about 2 and a half minutes, the report says.
The report says the two other riders involved in the avalanche, and a fourth who saw it happen, helped dig Christman out within about 5 minutes from his initial burial.
Bernard Powell, a friend of Christman’s who was riding with the group nearby, heard the avalanche and saw part of it happen, and raced over immediately to help. Powell says once Christman had been dug out, his companions started CPR.
“None of us really knew the proper way of giving CPR until we got on the phone with somebody, I think a professional nurse,” Powell told Channel 2 Thursday.
Powell says because of spotty cell phone reception, one group was on the phone yelling instructions down to the person giving CPR.
The accident report prepared by the Avalanche Center says after 20 or 30 minutes, one of the riders involved in the avalanche went to find two more members of the riding group that had left the area just minutes before – those two had a working cell phone to call emergency responders.
Powell says even though it was a “bluebird, blue skies” day where they were riding, the weather was too rough for the medical helicopter, so the Air Guard helicopter had to come in.
“When they (rescuers) came down, they knew that Chad was already gone, but they played along with us and showed us the proper way of giving CPR,” Powell said. “Of course, they put him on the stretcher and we carried him out up the hill.”
“It was a nice and epic riding day to a disastrous day, the way it finished off.” Powell said.
Powell says a group of about 15 people went back to retrieve Christman’s snowmachine on Monday, and it looked like another avalanche had occurred in the area, on top of two feet of snow that fell since the deadly avalanche.
He says the group was so large because of the high avalanche danger, and only people with avalanche packs dug the sled out of the gully, as others watched for signs of danger. But after the work of digging the machine was done, the group enjoyed the rest of the day in the mountains.
“We decided to play because that’s what Chad would have wanted,” Powell said. “He’s the kind of person that, all he did was bring us out.”
“Even though all of us have to work hard, he was saying, ‘Come on out and let’s go fishing, or let’s go snowmachining, or let’s go hiking,’” Powell said. “He always got people to go out.”
Powell said he’s not deterred from enjoying the snow by the incident, but he saw it as a learning experience and is going to get an avalanche vest for riding next year.
Channel 2's Derek Minemyer also contributed to this report.