CLEAR CREEK COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Colorado media crews watched and waited as a rescue crew member crawled into a hole dug in the snow, no larger than a sleeping bag, and applied fake blood to his leg. He would be the “victim” in Monday’s practice scenario and would be completely covered with snow and stuck in that hole for almost an hour.
It was up to his teammates to find him.
It’s not the first time Alpine Rescue Team crews, along with Flight for Life and Loveland Ski Area have all worked together to practice finding someone buried in an avalanche using a helicopter.
It is the first time they’ve done it using an external avalanche beacon receiver, essentially a really big avalanche beacon hanging feet below the helicopter they can use to sweep large areas of snow quickly. Quickly is the key during rescues like this, according to Chad Miller, Lead Flight Paramedic for Flight for Life Colorado.
“Minutes matter,” Miller said, gravely. “Most avalanche victims suffocate, 10% die from traumatic injuries so it’s really important that we get the right people to the right place.”
To make sure they have the right people in the right place takes a coordinated effort between search crews. In the practice scenario Monday above Loveland pass, a ground crew landed and started the search right away with avalanche beacons and a rescue dog, sniffing for victims buried in the snow.
It wouldn’t be until the second team, with a second dog arrived that the crew member, still stuck in his snow hole, would be found and rescued.
Halsted Morris, president of the American Avalanche Association, told CBS4 mountain newsroom reporter Spencer Wilson using all the tools in their toolbox to execute a rescue gives them the best chance to save a life, or at least bring closure if search and rescue doesn’t make it in time.
That includes the external helicopter beacon receiver, now expected to be used more attached to the summit county helicopter stationed in Frisco. Morris said he is hopeful that can only add to the response of emergency crews this winter as more people venture out into the backcountry.