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Alberta man buried alive in avalanche recounts crushing experience
Published Wednesday, February 17, 2016 9:00AM MST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 17, 2016 9:15AM MST
An Alberta man who was swept over a cliff by a human triggered avalanche north of Lake Louise on the weekend is recovering from his injuries and credits his training and that of his group for saving his life.
Todd Wyatt and a group of friends were traversing on skis up a slope near Bow Hut on Friday afternoon when the group triggered an avalanche.
“As we were making our way up, all of a sudden I heard this loud crack,” said Wyatt. “And I looked up and saw the fracture line in front, and snow was flying up in the air from that fracture, because of the air pressure coming out, and I just didn’t believe it was happening.”
Wyatt says it sounded like a gunshot when the huge slab of snow gave way and swept him over the edge of a cliff.
“I thought I’m close enough to the edge so I might be able to get out of the way so I kind of decided, I can’t back up, I can’t turn left, cause it will catch me head-on or broadside if I don’t get out of the way so I thought I would turn to the right, which was into the downslope,” he said.
He says the snow released below him as well and then he was hit by the surface snow.
“It broke my leg as it swallowed me up and poured over top of me and I was in the flow of the snow. So I was buried in the avalanche through the whole run out,” said Wyatt.
He was carrying all of the necessary safety equipment but the size-two slide forced snow down his throat and he fought for his life as the avalanche began to slow.
“As it came to a stop I kind of expanded my ribs, took a deep breath, expanded my ribs so I could at least have a breathing spot to move the ribs and then at that last moment, I kind of, I threw my arm up in the air, like punched it out in front of my face and it came out on the surface. So I had a bit of an air tunnel and the crushing force of the snow around me compressed my chest,” he said.
Wyatt was buried near the surface and his friends were able to dig him out along with two others who were also caught up in the slide.
“My hand was out and everything was silent and I kind of slapped my hand outside the hole a couple of times and within about two minutes our leader had skied down, we actually had slid past where they were at the bottom of the slope, and they had to come downslope to us. So he was there and cleared out the snow from my hand down my arm towards my face and opened up a bigger breathing hole for me.”
The group used a satellite phone to call for help but darkness prevented a rescue helicopter from landing in the area and they were forced to dig shelters in the snow and wait out the night.
“They got me splinted up pretty well and then three of the guys kind of grabbed on and hauled me up out of the snow. By this time it was dark and they had their head lamps out and they had set up a recon area about 75 yards downslope away from the main avalanche path,” said Wyatt.
Crews from Parks Canada were able to fly in the next day and evacuate the group and say they were well equipped with gear and knowledge to self-rescue.
Wyatt says it was a nerve-wracking experience but credits his training and that of the group for saving his life.
“It was traumatic, to put it mildly,” he said. “It was the most horrifying thing I’ve ever been through.”
He is now recovering at his home in Lacombe and says he will continue to ski in the backcountry but will be reevaluating his level of acceptable risk and will really look at the types of terrain he wants to ski in the future.