Avalanche search teams seldom find people alive, causing rescuers to experience emotional ‘stress injury’ over time
The Denver Post
DENVER — The memory of a rescue mission a decade ago still haunts Charles Pitman. Recalling the image of a father and uncle praying on a mountainside for a boy of 10 or 11 while rescuers performed CPR on him, Pitman paused to gather himself, tears in his eyes.
It was one of Pitman’s first missions with the Summit County Rescue Group. A family had been snowmobiling on Vail Pass, only a mile or two from where Pitman stood as he described that tragic day. The boy had accidentally run the snowmobile he was driving into a tree. In a blinding snowstorm at 11,500 feet, nurses who happened on the scene while skiing performed CPR, but it soon became clear there was no point in continuing.
“You can see, it’s been years, probably 10, 12 years ago,” Pitman said. “That’s how hard it was. I’ve dealt with a lot of fatalities. That sort of comes with the nature of what we do. But I think the fact that it was a child is what really, really hit hard.”
Witnessing the aftermath of trauma, death and the grief experienced by next of kin is something search-and-rescue teams have to deal with, whether the cause is accidents, avalanche fatalities or missing hikers in the summer. Pitman spoke after members of Colorado’s search and rescue community conducted a media event and training scenario Thursday, March 11, on Vail Pass to demonstrate how they respond when victims get caught in avalanches.
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