1976 – gondola crash a real family tragedy | VailDaily.com

1976 – gondola crash a real family tragedy

Peter W. Seibert

The release of the names of the injured and the dead was particularly delicate in this case. One by one, the victims, alive and dead, became known. Two New York businessmen and four young men from Massachusetts had been in the car that landed upright and produced less traumatic injuries. The car that landed upside down contained a man from Custer, S.D., his sister-in-law, and his wife, who was killed.

We had these people identified by early afternoon. But there were still three young women from the same car: two of them lay dead in our clinic; the other was in Denver, comatose and with a nearly severed arm. Who were they? Why hadn’t someone come forward? Why weren’t they missed?

We tried to get the word out about the unidentified girls. Finally, sometime after 2 p.m., I got a call from the clinic: A man had arrived and was asking about three girls who had been on the gondola that morning. He had gone up on a chairlift to meet them at Eagle’s Nest but hadn’t found them. His name was Richard Pasterkamp, and he was from Englewood. He had skied down after the gondola came to a stop, assuming his two daughters, Janice, 14, and Carol,18, and their friend, Karen Togtman, 19, were stranded in one of the stalled cars.

Ironically, on the way down, he had stopped to help the patrollers at the scene of the accident.

“When I heard there was trouble on the gondola, I was waiting for them at Eagle’s Nest,” he subsequently told a writer from Sports Illustrated. “I never thought they were involved. I skied down, saw the crowd at the wrecked cars, and decided I could help. I had some first-aid training years ago. I helped carry some people and load them on toboggans. I was there quite a while. I was real impressed with the way the ski patrol handled the injured. I stayed until most everyone was out. The dead were there, but they were covered. I never thought for a moment that my kids were involved. I skied down the mountain, and I called my wife at our condo in Dillon, and I said, “If you hear about this accident on TV don’t worry, it’s not our kids.’ That’s what I said. That’s what I believed.”

Pasterkamp then waited at the bottom of Gondola II, assuming the girls would come down after they were evacuated from their car. He was probably in my line of sight from my office window, but I had no idea who he was.

“I stayed there at the gondola terminal until maybe 2 o’clock,” he said. “I began asking here and there if anyone had seen my kids. Finally a guy asked me if I had anybody missing, and I said, “yes, I had three girls missing, but I was pretty positive they weren’t hurt.’

“I didn’t know that some people were still unidentified, so I never gave it a thought. I gave the fellow my name and a quick description of the girls. He left, then he returned in a few minutes and asked me to go over to the clinic. It still never dawned on me that my kids could be involved. I went and a man took me to his office and gave me a list of clothes that Carol had been wearing. Even then it didn’t register because part of her outfit belonged to her aunt.

“I called my wife to verify the clothing. It belonged to Carol. Then the coroner walked in. He showed me two Polaroid pictures. They were of Janice and Karen. He asked me if I wanted to make positive identification of the bodies. I said, “No, I want to go home.'”

As Pasterkamp left to drive to Dillon, the coroner summoned a state trooper and asked him to trail the bereaved father across Vail Pass just to be sure he wouldn’t do something suicidal after all the blows he had taken.

The following is the 57th installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter 11, entitled “Tragedy on the Mountain.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.

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