GEORGETOWN, Colo. (CBS4) – Two state employees were injured Monday morning after an explosive used in avalanche mitigation detonated prematurely. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, a crew was performing the avalanche mitigation on Loveland Pass when at just after 7 a.m. an explosive in an “Avalauncher” prematurely detonated within the barrel.
One of the injured was a CDOT employee and the other was employed from CDOT’s partners at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC).
“It exploded. Obviously it does release a lot of shrapnel, both from projectile and from the gun,” said Tony DeVito, Regional Transportation Director. “We have numerous safety precautions and where employees are supposed to stand. They were partially protected by vehicles.” One of the men is listed in fair condition while the other has serious injuries. “CDOT regularly monitors 278 of the 522 known avalanche paths in Colorado. This device has been in use for almost 30 years by CDOT. This particular Avalauncher has been used for the past 8 years, firing over 800 rounds this avalanche season alone,” Crystal Morgan with CDOT said in a statement. The Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Department is leading the investigation. CDOT, Oil and Public Safety and CAIC were also on the scene. Avalaunchers utilize compressed gas. An explosive is loaded into the device and launched. It explodes on impact in the hopes of creating an avalanche. It’s not clear why the explosive detonated prematurely. “We are taking this situation very seriously and will be looking into how to improve the safety of our crew members during avalanche reduction practices,” DeVito said. “The safety of our crews and the traveling public are our top priority and we ask you keep these gentlemen in your thoughts today.” CDOT has suspended the use of Avalaunchers but will continue avalanche mitigation with other methods. The names of the victims haven’t been released and the families have asked for privacy. Loveland Pass remained closed Monday for the investigation. Since November CDOT has triggered 14 avalanches for mitigation. LINK: Colorado Avalanche Information Center