April 21, 2002 - Field, British Columbia
The following reports are first-hand accounts and comments by the guys invovled, printed a year later in the "Avalanche News" which is a publication of the Canadian Avalanche Association.
Avalanche Survivor Saved By Friend's Avalung
Editors Note: The following stories are first-hand accounts from two friends who survived an avalanche at Elm Creek Basin, just north of Revelstoke, BC, while heli-skiing on February 10, 2002. Mike Morrissy was given an Avalung as a gift from his girlfriend prior to leaving home, as was Barry Fisher. Barry did not have his on, both men were buried. While Mike was fully buried for more than 30 minutes, Barry was fortunate to be only partially buried. Mike credits the Avalung to saving his life. Exactly one year after the incident, both men came back to heli-ski in Revelstoke, both wearing Avalungs. They stopped by the CAA to tell their story.
In February 2002, a group of the guys went to Revelstoke once again for our annual heli-ski trip. Unless you have been there, you cannot imagine just how majestic the Selkirk Mountains are, sharp as knives, with millions of untouched acres of incredibly pure, endless deep snow. On our first day of skiing, as usual, the ride in the helicopter made our eyes as big as saucers and gave us non-stop smiles - it was like living in a dream of the past.
We had a couple of runs in when we broke for lunch. As always, we discussed moving to Revelstoke and becoming ski bums. We broke from lunch, skied the rest of the run and got into the helicopter for another ride to the top of the world.
After instructions from our guide on spacing and maintaining the distance between us, we skied down. Without a sound, other than the yell of Mike who happened to be looking uphill, we were hit by an avalanche and sent flying. If you can imagine being in a washing machine, you're with me now. How long of a ride I had, I'm not sure. It was long enough to say to myself, "This is big and I'm a goner. Here comes Heaven."
When the avalanche stopped, I was buried at least from my chest down. I broke out with one arm then the other, but I was truly pinned and going absolutely nowhere. Another skier in the group was about 100 feet downhill from me and came up to dig me out. Shortly below him were two others from the group, which was all that was left standing. We had unknown knowledge of just how many skiers were involved. We knew that there were skiers above us, so we quickly and calmly got together and began our beacon search through over the slide debris. The derby was massive the slide zone was tremendous. As it turned out it was about five to six feet deep and the fracture line was some 250 feet wide.
I skied about 1/4 of the way through the slide zone searching with no pick-ups on the beacon. At that point I told the other three searchers that I was going to the bottom and skied directly to the bottom of the runout, where digging efforts were already under way. I got a shovel and began digging side by side with buddy Richard. Our guide was working the beacon and directing us where to dig. Out of my peripheral, I saw someone that had started CPR on an uncovered victim, but things did not look good. What seemed like hours at that time it turned out to be something along the line of 15 minutes. In an avalanche seconds are critical and minutes are horrendous.
During this time others had arrived. I simply cannot say enough of the rescue efforts from the heli-ski company and the many others who arrived in helicopters from areas I did not even know - tremendous!
One of my best and closets friends was still buried and I was frustrated to say the least. We kept digging and working as fast as possible. Someone yelled that they had found a glove. Because of my frustration, I jumped out of the pit I was in and bean digging along the arm and found out it was Mike. I knew he was dead. I saw a chopper evacuate the first unconscious skier. Things did not look good there and a lot of time had since lapsed. In fact, another 20 minutes had ticked off the clock. You cannot imagine what it's like digging out a friend who's closer than your brother, knowing he is dead. That is an experience that words do no justice.
Upon digging him out I saw it. I had forgotten that Mike was wearing his Avalung. He was unconscious, but alive! Within half a minute after the tunnel of fresh air had got to him, my friend of years was awake! Fortunately nothing was broken and he was A-OK. It did take several additional minutes to dig him out, get an emergency blanket on him and get him safe. I gave, Mike a big kiss and jumped back into the last pit to help finish, the final evacuation.
There were two skiers that passed away that day February 10, 2002, but nine lived. Our guide that morning had given us a test on multiple burials never knowing that we would be put to the ultimate test. Our guide was incredible, walked the ultimate walk and brought nine skiers back that day!
I cannot express my thankfulness to the individuals who helped us and with the companies who came to the rescue. They were seemingly invisible, but just behind a cloud, there when we were in need.
The Avalung saved Mike's life that day. Use it along with the other required safety devices and hopefully you will never go through an episode like this.
- Barry “Fish" Fisher, Vail, Colorado
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