Sheep Creek Avalanche — Press Release from First Responder Mike Bennett


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Mike Bennett

Editor’s note from Lou: This just in. Mike is the guy who dug out the only survivor of the tragic avalanche last Saturday that killed five near Loveland Pass, Colorado. I’ll leave comments turned on here, but we would appreciate if folks would make general comments about the avalanche over on our first Sheep Creek post from this morning.

ACCOUNT OF THE APRIL 20TH AVALANCHE ON LOVELAND PASS – by Mike Bennett

I am writing this account in order to assure that there is correct information across the board for news outlets. Please, out of respect for the victims and the situation, do not take any of this story out of context or assume creative license with the facts mentioned.

On April 20th, I and a group of friends met in the parking lot of Loveland ski area to enjoy some backcountry skiing. The previous evening, we had held a benefit for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and raised a substantial amount of money for the organization. We had an avalanche discussion highlighting some of the current dangers in the touchy Colorado backcountry.

Joe Timlin, who was the organizer of the gathering, was especially concerned with safety of all backcountry travelers and spoke to this matter at the event. The next morning, we congregated in the Loveland parking lot and decided to split into smaller groups who would visit different locations in the backcountry around Loveland Pass.

Our group decided on a route on the north side of I-70 while another group decided to head up the south side of the pass to a popular gully named Sheep Creek. We returned from our tour and hung out in the Loveland Valley parking lot waiting for our other friends to return. After a while, we started to wonder where they were. Soon after, we were approached by a group of CAIC/CDOT workers who notified us of an avalanche in the Sheep Creek drainage. Realizing that this was where our friends were supposed to be headed, we immediately rushed up the pass so check out what was going on.

Upon arrival, we attached our backcountry avalanche gear and headed out to the scene, which was not far from the access point on the road. As we rounded the corner, only a few hundred yards from the road, we saw a massive pile of avalanche debris. Dan Pedrow, who was a few minutes ahead of me, had already located one victim with his transceiver and was beginning to dig him out. I began searching the rest of the large area, with my beacon to try and locate other victims. At this time, two other backcountry travelers who were skinning in the area joined our search as they realized what was happening. I do not know these two gentlemen, but they were extremely helpful in the recovery.

As I continued searching the slope, I located a beacon signal, and followed it around a bend and past some trees. I heard someone moaning/yelling and immediately recognized one of our group. He was still buried but had his head above the snow and was breathing. I started to help dig him out, which was not easy as the snow around him was extremely hard and packed in. He was able to communicate and notified us that there were two others right next to him and three others downslope from him but he was not sure of their location.

At this time, I notified the other rescuers that I had multiple burials and one of them came to assist me. Upon digging the survivor out, we also discovered the bodies of two other men, Joe Timlin and Rick Gaukel. Both were unresponsive, not breathing, and had no pulse.

By now, rescue personnel from Loveland ski area and SAR had started to show up, and help locate other victims using their avalanche beacons. Their relief was welcome as the rest of us were beginning to get fatigued from digging in the hard snow. This was not an easy task as some victims were spread far apart and buried very deep in the snowpack, some wrapped in debris from trees. The search and rescue personnel and ski patrol did an incredible job of digging out the remaining victims and being respectful of the deceased. Their expertise and professionalism is to be commended.

It should be known that many of the members of this group were extremely experienced and educated in backcountry travel. They had all of the necessary gear, and knowledge of traveling in avalanche terrain. Joe’s number one intention for this event was safety and the well being of all of the participants. He had organized it well, and made sure that other people in the group read the avalanche report that morning, and chose conservative routes of travel. There is no doubt in my mind that this was exactly what the group was trying to accomplish. No body was out there for an adrenaline rush, or getting extreme. This event was about traveling safely in the mountains with our friends, making new friends, and having fun.

Of the victims, I was good friends with Joe Timlin. Having known him for many years, he always had a smile on his face when he was in the mountains. His spirit and enthusiasm were contagious and he loved snowboarding and created a life around it. He got joy out of making others happy, and derived pleasure from seeing his friends having as much fun in the hills as he was. His passion for the snowboard industry had led him to a job as a sales rep for a few good brands, which he was very passionate about. At the benefit the night before, we had almost doubled our goal for fundraising for the CAIC and he was excited to see the event get even bigger in the future.

I had just met many of the other victims within the previous 24 hours. They were all interesting people who I’m sure had families who loved them and will miss them greatly. Every single person involved in this tragedy deserves to be remembered as a good person who was doing their best to enjoy their love for the outdoors. Our hearts go out to their families and friends.

Please, as this information is published, I ask that you have the respect and honor for the deceased and the rescuers to only disseminate correct information, without bias, that will portray them in a good light. This story should not be sensationalized, rather used as a memorial for the victims, and education.

Colorado Avalanche Information Center official report.

Comments

26 Responses to “Sheep Creek Avalanche — Press Release from First Responder Mike Bennett”

  1. Lakin April 22nd, 2013 2:44 pm

    This is great you did this for the families. Ride in Peace.

  2. Parker April 22nd, 2013 3:08 pm

    Thank you for sharing. It takes courage. I was in a significant avalanche and chose not to publish my story or an accident report. I was glad I did not. People do a lot of Monday morning quaterbacking, which is natural but It other peoples thoughts can be tough to shift through when going through a life changing event.
    be well
    parker

  3. Glenn Sliva April 22nd, 2013 3:26 pm

    Hard to read this without tears.

    Thanks for posting though. Thoughts and Prayers.

    Glenn

  4. mtsplitski April 22nd, 2013 3:28 pm

    Mike, thanks so much for sharing. I wish you the best going through this difficult time.

  5. Kim Hedberg April 22nd, 2013 3:37 pm

    As an avalanche instructor for the last 20 years, I review every avalanche report so as to pass on lessons learned to people taking these classes. @Parker, please file a report–if you save one life, or prevent one person from getting into an avalanche like you did, you will have helped all of us be safer.

  6. Lou Dawson April 22nd, 2013 3:40 pm

    One of the most selfish things you can do is not share an accident or error report that other folks could learn from, and could possibly save lives, just because you’re worried about some Monday morning quarterbacking.

  7. GlideIncSplits April 22nd, 2013 3:48 pm

    Your efforts in the rescue and the willingness to share it with us is beyond any praise I can come up with… Thank you.

  8. Theodore April 22nd, 2013 4:00 pm

    Thanks to Mike for taken the time to point out so many important aspects that have not been discussed/reported. My Heart and mountain Soul weep for Mike and all of you whom were there to help during this terrible accident. So proud of everyone that did everything they could do to help. I believe the Mountain community collectively is so caring and strong, as evidence by all of your responses that day. RIP Mountain Friends:[

  9. Gloria Gonzalez April 22nd, 2013 4:34 pm

    Thank you, Michael, for this well-written report of a very heart breaking event. You’ve played it forward—bless you! The families of everyone involved will appreciate your first-hand knowledge.

  10. Gloria Gonzalez April 22nd, 2013 4:34 pm

    Thank you, Michael, for this well-written report of a very heart breaking event. You’ve played it forward—bless you! The families of everyone involved will appreciate your first-hand knowledge.

  11. Pierce Oz April 22nd, 2013 4:36 pm

    I just wanted to offer my condolences to the family and friends of 5 guys who were killed. It’s always painfully sad to see people so full of life snuffed out so abruptly, doing something you know gave them tremendous joy. I can’t begin to fathom the loss. Know that they loved you more than anything else, and that they were the people you loved because of the way they lived their lives. My thoughts and prayers are with you, and with the survivor and first responders.

  12. Bridget April 22nd, 2013 6:07 pm

    Mike, thank you for sharing your experience with us. I can only imagine how the horror of discovering the avalanche knowing your friends were there in the debris. Then, the joy of finding a friend alive juxtaposed with the sadness of losing other friends and backcountry brethren. It’s clear in your report you did everything you could do in your power to help. Rick was my Avy L1 instructor earlier this year; his and the others’ loss will leave a hole in the hearts of many. They will not be forgotten. Thanks again for all you did and shared with us.

  13. jwolter7 April 22nd, 2013 6:38 pm

    Could you speculate why all six were caught in the same slide? Why were they not holding a few back at the top, until a few exited out and away at the bottom of the run to limit how many would get caught if a slide in this large bowl did happen?

    I read it may have started above them as they were exiting the run. That is one big pitch of a bowl without many safety islands during the run. Could they have split up more on that run?

    Six caught is a tough one to understand… :(

  14. Bonnie Reimer April 22nd, 2013 6:40 pm

    Prayers for the survivor who has rough days ahead and the families of the victims. Thanks for setting the record straight.

  15. Tony Cella April 22nd, 2013 6:40 pm

    I am saddened by the news and my heart goes out to the families of these backcountry lovers. Education is the key to enjoying the back country and this group has enhanced the lives of the folks that leaned from them Ride in peace all.

  16. Mica April 22nd, 2013 6:43 pm

    Ian Lamphere was killed in an avalanche while skiing on 4/20/2013. We are raising money to help cover expenses for his fiancé and daughter.

    http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fund-for-madelyn

  17. Lou Dawson April 22nd, 2013 7:08 pm

    J, a couple of major errors in judgement and procedure but details are not out yet. What is known is they were just starting _up_ on a tour, and were obviously all in the path of the slide, as well as at least some of them subjected to a terrain trap. The whole thing is very hard to get your head around, it is for me anyway. On the other hand, I can’t say I’ve subjected 6 people to that kind of situation in recent memory, but myself and friends have certainly been in places where we were too bunched up under a big avy path, that if it had run would have resulted in a significant tragedy. Every season I get more and more on the case with that, but where I slip is when in Europe, for example, and go out with larger guided groups in the Euro style of more risk acceptance than I’m used to. Disconcerting….

    Lou

  18. Jean-Paul Giudici April 22nd, 2013 7:47 pm

    Ride in peace. My heart breaks for them.

  19. Paul April 22nd, 2013 10:53 pm

    Thanks for publishing your account of this, reports from the major news outlets are always pretty skewed on this type of stuff. Lots’ of people second guessing, especially those that have little or no experience backcountry skiing. Truth is, just about every single one of us (backcountry users) has been in situations where if an entire bowl or face slid, it would take out several people. Just like the slide that took out Craig Kelly, or the one last season in WA. Just very unlucky. Even when the “danger scale” is moderate or low, an avalanche can still occur. Sometimes even inbounds on a slope that has been “avalanche controlled”. I have ridden that area many times, and though I haven’t been there recently and have no intimate knowledge of the snowpack there, I would venture to guess many of us would have had no problem being in that area on that day.
    RIP guys, and love to friends and family

  20. Sherry April 22nd, 2013 11:10 pm

    I am so sad that your friends died. Nature is at best unpredictable, that is why it is so beautiful! May God give comfort to those who grieve and to you who have to live with sad memories of finding friends beyond medical help- peace and comfort as well.

  21. jwolter7 April 22nd, 2013 11:45 pm

    Ok Lou that does make a bit more sense now. I just assumed they had started up high on the pass and were coming down when caught at 2:00 PM.

  22. UpSki Kevin April 23rd, 2013 11:33 am

    Thinking about this specific location: We have accessed goat mountain via this drainage from the road switch back… but not in a few seasons. Its an obvious, but short lived terrain trap (depending on your destination). However, the N aspect that slid is on your periphery and significantly dwarfed by 1000-15000 vertical ft of poor snow coverage on Goat mountain and surrounding W aspect that is dead ahead of you.
    I can very easily imagine having the security of the road 100yrs away, the upslope trees on your right obscuring the starting zone; your attention focused on the obvious avalanche gulley down to you left and abruptly ahead of you… all the while… the real starting zone hazard is not where you are looking…. So, you are standing around talking about how you will reduce hazard in the gully when you get blind-sighted from the right.
    The north aspect IMHO is at best marginally visible from the road … thus, its hard to realize its tucked in there.

  23. David Bennett April 23rd, 2013 12:16 pm

    Mike,
    I am so sorry you lost friends and so proud you were ready and able to assist in a very difficult situation. Your writing is a memorial to the spirit of you and your friends. Be safe, son.

  24. Martha Colvin April 24th, 2013 4:58 pm

    Mike, I am sorry for the loss of your friend. It takes people like you to set the media straight. Thanks for taking the time to let others know. I hope the families of the victims will mend and find peace and comfort in the days ahead-with help from people like you.

  25. Vince April 26th, 2013 10:33 am

    Mike,
    Thank you for writing this. Rick Gaukel was an extremely close friend of mine. I have not been able to stop thinking about him and the situation since I heard the news last Sunday morning. It is refreshing to hear this account from someone that was there rather than from the major news outlets who seem to share the skeleton of the story and fill in the facts with hearsay and speculation. Your account has answered a couple of questions that have been in my mind and I appreciate that. Thank you for responding and for helping recover my best friend.
    Vince

  26. Lou Dawson April 26th, 2013 10:38 am

    Vince, condolences from all the Dawsons. I wish I’d had the opportunity to enjoy a day in the mountains with Rick, he sounds like a stellar individual. Lou

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