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Backcountry slide kills two

Joel StoningtonGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colo. A huge avalanche near Independence Pass killed two male skiers Tuesday, while a third walked away after trying to save his partners’ lives. The trio was backcountry skiing on Sunshine Peak – officially named Mt. Shimer – when an avalanche occurred that was described by rescue personnel as “massive” and “enormous.” Officials withheld the names of the two victims – one from New York City and one from Buenos Aires, Argentina – until relatives are notified.The survivor was identified as Jason Luck, 33, of Arvada, according to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s office.Luck and the two deceased had driven to the Independence Pass winter closure gate on Highway 82 and parked two vehicles, then took two snowmobiles 2 miles to the Weller trailhead and skinned toward Sunshine Peak, Lumsden said.Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteers said ski tracks from the three went into the avalanche area roughly 200 feet below a fracture line spanning much of the mountain and topping out at roughly 11,500 feet. The avalanche occurred sometime before 2:58 p.m., when the Sheriff’s office received an emergency call from Luck.Lumsden said all three were caught in the avalanche, though it is unclear if Luck was partially buried or skied through the slide. Luck uncovered one of the victims from a 4-foot deposition zone and found him unconscious but breathing at the time of the emergency call, Lumsden said. The other skier had been partially uncovered from 8 feet of snow but was not breathing or conscious, according to Lumsden.By 4 p.m., Mountain Rescue Aspen had a team of six heading up the Independence Pass road on snowmobiles borrowed from T-Lazy 7 Ranch. At the same time, an airplane and a helicopter were mobilized for the search. The airplane was over the avalanche area by 4:15 p.m.A air ambulance helicopter from Summit County flew a snow safety expert and medic to the scene by 4:30 p.m. From the ground, responders determined there could be additional danger from a hanging cornice but the safety expert cleared the area for the search. When the helicopter landed it was determined Luck was the only survivor. By 4:45 p.m., other members of Mountain Rescue had arrived, including members of West Eagle Search and Rescue, based in El Jebel. At 5:30 p.m., Luck returned to the winter gate with a rescuer on the back of a snowmobile. Luck walked down to a Suburban with an attached trailer, then drove with a deputy in to Aspen. Lumsden said Luck spoke with rescue personnel in Aspen and with mental health professionals Tuesday evening. After Luck returned to Aspen, the helicopter transported the two bodies off the peak and down to Weller, where snowmobiles and members of Mountain Rescue were waiting. By 6:30 p.m., the first snowmobile arrived at the winter gate towing a sled with a body wrapped in a tarp. Soon afterwards, a second snowmobile with another body reached the bottom. On the second sled were a helmet, tele skis and a yellow backpack. Cause of death will be determined by the county coroner.In all, five Pitkin County deputies, 15 members of Mountain Rescue and four members of West Eagle were involved in the operation. Everyone was out of the field by 7 p.m.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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