Rescuers find body of avalanche victim | SummitDaily.com
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Rescuers find body of avalanche victim

LOVELAND – Search and rescue personnel, assisted by seven avalanche dogs, found the body of Kenneth S. Booker, who was buried Monday afternoon in an avalanche in Dry Gulch east of the Eisenhower Tunnel.

According to Dan Burnett of Summit County Rescue Group, rescuers found Booker’s body Tuesday afternoon in about 6 feet of debris in the lower half of a 300-foot-wide, 200-foot-long slide. His body was found at 2:30 p.m., 23 hours after John William Brill called 911 to report his friend was trapped in the slide. Neither was wearing an avalanche beacon.

“It’s a bleak end to a bleak thing,” Burnett said. “Nobody could have survived this.”



Booker, believed to be from Ken-Caryl Ranch on the Front Range, was 48 years old and was on snowshoes, not skis, as emergency responders originally believed. Rescuers were awaiting the Clear Creek Sheriff, who needed to conduct an investigation before they could bring the body out of the backcountry.

Booker’s death is the first avalanche fatality this season in Colorado. Eight people died in avalanches last season in Colorado.



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The search

About 10 rescuers worked to find Booker Monday, including two ski patrollers from Keystone Resort who responded to the call with an avalanche dog named Chewy, said the resort’s public information officer, Mike Lee. The golden retriever-husky mix didn’t find the man by the time rescuers called it quits at 6 p.m. Monday.

Crews joined at least 18 more rescuers, 15 snowmobiles, six additional dogs and a snow-cat Tuesday. Rescuers from Alpine, Rocky Mountain and Summit County rescue groups were armed with snow-piercing radar equipment, probes and muscles, Burnett said.

But, according to Clear Creek Sheriff’s Office public information officer Bill Barwick, the 12-foot-long probe poles couldn’t reach the deepest parts of the slide, which were 20 feet deep.

As of noon, rescuers believed there was little to no chance they’d find the man alive, Burnett said.

“The size of this slide and the depth of the burial is such that it is totally bleak,” he said earlier in the day. “I couldn’t tell you within the space of four football fields where he is.”

The dogs alerted in three places, at which point rescuers dug deep holes and began probing. The task was difficult because the snow had solidified, preventing odors from permeating the surface.

But the dogs’ noses were the only chance rescuers had, Burnett said.

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The rescue

At 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, one of the dogs alerted, and rescuers found Booker’s body.

Rescuers, Burnett said, always tell themselves they will find the victim in the next 10 minutes. That inspires them to continue, hour after hour – and sometimes, day after day.

“You have to work at it that way,” Burnett said. “But the thing that’s motivational about a situation like this is that 30 people with expert-level talent have taken off from their jobs, paid for their own training, and they’re paying to be here,” he said. “It’s thrilling to be part of a team like this.”

Rescuers also had their eyes on the weather, knowing that if a storm front moved through before they found the man, the area would be too dangerous to search again until late spring, Burnett said.

Burnett was searching for clues at the top of the slide, which took him an hour and a half to access.

“It’s enormous,” he said of the 300-foot-wide, 200-foot-long slide. “It is a disaster. It gives you the same feeling you got when you watched the Twin Towers fall.”

The slide zone is safe – now, Burnett said. But along the sides of the 20- to 40-degree slope, conditions are extreme.

“Everyone is pretty relieved,” Burnett said. “It could have gone for days.”

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Avalanche Awareness Class: A free avalanche awareness class will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27 at Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge. No reservations required.

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Recorded avalanche information for Summit, Eagle counties

(970) 668-0600

To report an avalanche

CAIC Breckenridge office (970) 547-0056

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Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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