Search for overdue skiers – January 21, 2002

Search for overdue skiers

National Park Service Morning Report

January 21, 2002

National Park Service

Division of Ranger Activities

Washington, D.C.

On January 21st, the park began a search for two skiers overdue from a ski trip around the rim of Crater Lake. Kate Gessford, 21, and Dave Schuler, 24, both from Portland, began the 33-mile ski trip on January 17th and planned to finish on January 19th. During the initial search on the afternoon of January 21st, ranger Randy Benham and volunteer ski patrol member Bill Bloom were skiing along the East Rim Drive ski trail about three miles east of park headquarters.

avalanche-crater-lake-winterCrater Lake in winter, Sinnott Memorial Overlook (far left), Wizard Island (center foreground), and west rim (background). Photograph by Robert Mutch

They had met and were skiing with two visitors, Richard Ward, 32, and Kris Fisher, 28, both from Klamath Falls. All four were caught in an avalanche that released on a steep slope approximately 100 feet above them. Benham and Ward ended up on the surface, but Bloom and Fisher were completely buried. Benham and Ward immediately began a search for the other two skiers. Seeing a ski pole tip protruding from the snow, they located and dug out Fisher, who was buried head down in six feet of debris for about ten minutes. The three then resumed the search for Bloom, and located him using avalanche beacons and probes. They were able to dig Bloom out from six feet of debris after about 40 minutes, just as he was about to lose consciousness.

Benham, Ward and Fisher were uninjured, but Bloom was suffering from mild hypothermia. After rewarming, the four were able to ski out with assistance from other rescue personnel. Bloom was later transported to a nearby hospital, where he stayed overnight for treatment of slight pulmonary edema.

The search for Schuler and Gessford was complicated by low clouds and fog, approximately 40 inches of new snow, and by areas of high avalanche potential that prevented searchers from reaching the majority of the search area. At about 5:00 p.m. on January 23rd, searchers located the two skiers, both uninjured, near Vidae Falls, about three-and-a-half miles east of park headquarters. They told rangers that their progress had been slowed by the amount of new snowfall, and that they had both been caught in an avalanche on January 20th, but were buried only waist-deep and were able to extricate themselves with a shovel.

The pair were found just one day before a major winter storm was forecast to hit the park, with up to four feet of snow and strong winds predicted. Ranger Pete Reinhardt was IC; employees from Mount Rainier and Lassen Volcanic assisted in the search, as did personnel from the Umpqua National Forest and local sno-cat operators. Two critical incident peer counselors are currently in the park to support the involved employees and other park staff. [David Brennan, CR, CRLA, 1/24]

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