Summit County volunteers launch extensive avalanche rescue on false alarm
Summit County emergency services launched a full-scale rescue mission to save an individual buried by an avalanche Monday afternoon only to realize the man had made it out safely a day earlier.
At about 2:20 p.m. Monday, Dec. 21, Summit County Rescue Group was notified of an avalanche in the area of Elliot’s Ridge southwest of Heeney. The caller noticed that the avalanche had partially buried a snowmobile, and their avalanche transceiver had picked up a distant signal in the area.
Emergency workers responded in force. The Summit County Rescue Group rounded up 23 volunteers with snowmobiles who rushed to the scene alongside two deputies with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and a paramedic with Summit Fire & EMS. Flight for Life also picked up a dog team from Arapahoe Basin Ski Area to deliver them to the avalanche site, and two additional dog teams were alerted from Breckenridge Ski Resort and Beaver Creek Resort.
Emergency workers eventually were able to identify the man from the snowmobile registration and later located him at his residence. The search was officially called off at about 4 p.m., according to rescue group spokesperson Charles Pitman.
The man said the avalanche occurred the previous day, Dec. 20, and that he was caught in the slide and sustained minor injuries. He was rescued by other members in his group but apparently never reported the incident to the proper authorities.
“When dispatch got the call, neither they nor our mission coordinator had any information that this slide was a day old,” Pitman said. “When something like this occurs and someone has found something that indicates an individual was involved in the slide, the mission coordinator will make the assumption that someone is buried, and we’ll launch every asset we possibly can. In this case, that included Flight for Life, a dog team and notifying two others, and a bevy of other people.”
The rescue group is urging backcountry users who have triggered an avalanche and know that nobody is buried to call the nonemergency dispatch number at 970-668-8600. Callers should advise dispatchers of the situation, give an exact location and state that no one is buried so that important emergency resources aren’t later used unnecessarily.
In the event that a backcountry user witnesses an avalanche and believes someone is buried, or is uncertain whether anyone might have been caught, they should call 911 immediately.
“Avalanche calls always generate an immediate response from us, and they always will,” said Anna DeBattiste, a spokesperson for the rescue group. “What we don’t want to have happen is have so many false alarms this winter that it starts to become the ’little boy who cried wolf’ to some of our rescuers. It’s not just about deployment of expensive resources. It’s also about making sure people don’t get fatigued with the number of calls.”
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