Park ranger recognized for rescue efforts
Herald and News
Klamath Falls, Oregon
December 15, 2002
By LEE JUILLERAT
Rescue efforts that helped save the lives of two cross country skiers buried in an avalanche at Crater Lake National Park in January have earned national honors for park ranger Randy Benham.
Benham, a seasonal ranger who lives near Grants Pass, was presented the Department of the Interior’s Exemplary Act Award earlier this month.
Chief Ranger Dave Brennan said the honor was being made “in recognition of Randy’s courageous actions that resulted in the rescue of two avalanche victims.”
On Jan. 21, park rangers launched a search for two skiers overdue from a trip around the lake. While on the search, Benham, ski patrol member Bill Bloom and visitors Richard Ward and Kris Fisher were caught in an avalanche on a steep slope along East Rim Drive near the Crater Peak trail junction. All four were swept 100 feet down a steep hill.
When the slide stopped, Benham was on top of the snow and Ward was buried to his waist. Fisher was buried upside down with only his ski pole tip sticking from the snow, while Bloom was completely buried.
Benham led Ward on a search. They located and dug out Fisher, then searched for Bloom. Benham picked up an avalanche beacon signal from Bloom, then used his ski poles to make a probe. They quickly locating Bloom, who was buried under six feet of avalanche debris. When Bloom was freed after being buried for almost 40 minutes he was hypoxic and hypothermic.
Benham treated Bloom’s injuries, enabling Bloom to ski out under his own power.
“Under tremendous stress, Randy took charge of the emergency situation and acted decisively and appropriately,” said Superintendent Chuck Lundy. “His timely, accurate and professional response undoubtedly saved the lives of both Bloom and Fisher.”
Benham, who was unaware of the award, said he mostly reacted.
“I’ve been doing it for so long a lot of it was reflex,” Benham said. “I jumped into that rescue mode and went to work. Everything worked out. It’s mainly just training. We do it over and over. You never know when you’re going to use it.”
He began work as a seasonal Crater Lake ranger in 1993. Since then he has also worked at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and served on the Crater Lake volunteer ski patrol.
“It was nice receiving the award at Crater Lake because that’s like home. This meant a lot more getting it at the park. I like working up there.”
In the Grants Pass area, Benham recently opened a Christian coffee house, “Cup of Trembling,” and has long designed and manufactured rescue evacuation equipment and technical outerwear clothing through another business, Massif Mountain Gear.
Benham was given a framed certificate, a National Park Service arrowhead plaque and a personal avalanche beacon.
The Exemplary Act Award was established in 1982 to honor employees or private citizens who exhibit bravery in attempting to save the life of another person. The award is the second highest Honor Award presented by the Interior Department.
Bloom was given a special achievement award for his dedication and personal sacrifice as a ski patrol member. Ranger Dan Jacobs, who oversees the ski patrol, said, “Despite this significantly disquieting experience, Bill’s dedication and commitment to Crater Lake National Park and the ski patrol remains strong and active.”
Bloom was also awarded an avalanche beacon provided through the Crater Lake Natural History Association.