Helicopter rescue system saves time for buried avalanche victims | VailDaily.com

Helicopter rescue system saves time for buried avalanche victims

SALT LAKE CITY – Too often, the job of Wasatch Backcountry Rescue is to recover the bodies of avalanche victims. Now, rescuers hope a locator system widely used in Europe but rare in this country will turn the odds in favor of the buried victims.The team, made up of ski patrollers and search dogs from Wasatch ski resorts, bought a long-range avalanche transceiver system that can work from a helicopter for quick and safe rescues.With it, rescuers can hover over an avalanche slide and pinpoint the location of buried skiers who wear their own avalanche beacons. It saves time and keeps rescuers out of dangerous terrain. They can drop from a helicopter right on top of a victim.Ironically, conditions in the Wasatch mountains were too dangerous Thursday for the rescue team to give its new equipment a try. High wind and heavy snowfall grounded a Wasatch Powderbird Guides helicopter – the company assists in avalanche rescues – and canceled plans for a demonstration.Wasatch Backcountry Rescue still put its equipment, designed by Swiss engineer Manuel Genswein, on display.The transceiver hangs from a helicopter and can pick up a signal from a buried skier from up to 196 yards – triple the range of regular avalanche beacons. It can pinpoint at once the locations of multiple avalanche victims.”Unfortunately, a lot of time we’re doing recovery in the backcountry,” said Dean Cardinale, assistant snow safety director for Snowbird resort and president of Wasatch Backcountry Rescue.By the time rescuers get word of an avalanche, it’s often too late to save a life. The victims have died of suffocation under the snow, or of injuries suffered while being swept down the slope. And to reach the site, volunteers often must travel by ski over dangerous terrain and in severe weather.That problem was underscored on Tuesday when a snowboarder fell through a wind-swept cornice, or snow overhang, and triggered an avalanche outside Brighton ski resort, about 18 miles east of Salt Lake City.The snowboarder’s companion skied to the base of the resort for help, but it took rescuers about 30 minutes to reach the body of Atilio Giorgio Cremaschi Yavar, 27, a Chilean snowboard instructor living in Utah for the winter.Avalanche victims typically die within 15 minutes from suffocation, although ski patrollers say Yavar appeared to have died of trauma after being dragged down a rocky cliff. He was found buried in the snow with only a glove showing.Avalanches are a constant threat in the backcountry. But they are rare at ski resorts, which deliberately trigger avalanches on unstable slopes before opening chairlifts to skiers.–On the Net:http://www.avalanche.org/

Support Local Journalism