Ski patroller puts skills to work at out-of-state highway crash
Post Independent Staff
Ski patrollers Ed Carlson and his son Ryan were hundreds of miles from ski country last Sunday, but their emergency training kicked right in when they came upon a horrific highway crash near the California-Nevada border.
A westbound tour bus loaded with passengers returning to California from a weekend in Las Vegas slammed into a bus that had stopped because of another accident, injuring 50 of the 55 people on board.
Reports indicate the rear bus was going about 55 miles an hour when it hit the first bus. No one was killed, but at least eight people were critically injured.
Ryan and his parents were driving eastbound to Colorado on Interstate 15 after attending a family wedding in Southern California, when they saw the mangled wreckage in the westbound lanes. The accident happened just moments before, and they were among the first on the scene.
Ed Carlson, an 11-year patrol veteran at Sunlight Mountain Resort, pulled over. While another motorist flagged down traffic, he and Ryan jumped the concrete barrier dividing the east and westbound lanes.
The scene was gruesome.
Carlson said the entire front of the bus had collapsed. Two women sitting in the front seats had been thrown forward and were hanging out of the bus where the windshield had once been. The impact was so severe many of the bus’ seats had torn free from the floor. Carlson said blood and injured passengers were everywhere.
For Ryan, 23, of Grand Junction and a patroller at Powderhorn Resort, the scene was eerily familiar. This winter, he completed an Outdoor Emergency Care course, an extensive training similar to Emergency Medical Technician training in preparation for ski patrolling. During the course, Ryan watched a training video of a mock bus accident.
“Ryan even said to me as we were running to the accident, `This is just like the triage training video we saw in OEC class,'” Carlson said.
Carlson and Ryan immediately put their ski patrol training into action.
First, Carlson determined the bus driver’s legs were trapped but that he was, amazingly enough, unhurt.
Then he calmed down a passenger inside the bus who was on a “major adrenaline rush,” kicking out windows and throwing injured people through the jagged glass into traffic onto the highway below.
“There was glass flying, and he was just about to throw a woman with a broken leg out the window before we calmed him down,” Carlson said.
He continued to figure out who was most seriously injured as more people, including three doctors, arrived on the scene to help.
“My wife held a mother’s hand whose daughter was severely injured,” Carlson said, “and she sat on the side of the road with people who had broken bones until ambulances arrived,” pointing out that even if you don’t have a first aid or medical background, you can be of help at a multi-injury accident of this type.
Meanwhile, Ryan went to help the two critically injured women in the front of the bus. One had a major head injury and a cut that exposed her skull.
“She was very combative,” Carlson said, but Ryan’s training taught him to expect a wide range of emotions and consciousness from accident victims.
Once helicopters arrived on the scene, Carlson helped load people onto backboards – something he does on the mountain with ski patrol – for transport to area hospitals.
Carlson said it’s easy to lose track of time at accident scenes. By the time the Carlsons left the accident, a full two hours had passed.
Russ Arneson, one of Carlson’s fellow Sunlight ski patrollers, said “when emergency personnel, helicopters and ambulances arrived, the Carlsons figured they were no longer needed, and they simply got in their car and left. These guys are unsung heroes.”
But for the Carlsons, it’s just another day of patrolling – on or off the mountain.
“Our training really works,” Carlson said. “It kicks in when you need it.”
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