NAEBA, JAPAN – A Canadian ski journalist rescued a buried avalanche victim using the Tracker DTS avalanche transceiver. Leslie Anthony, 43, of Whistler, B.C. performed therecovery outside the Naeba ski resort, approximately 100 miles northwest
of Tokyo, Japan. The victim, 31-year-old cinematographer Ben Mullin of Olympic Valley, California, sustained a skull fracture,severe head lacerations, and a punctured lung.
The loose snow avalanche occurred at approximately 3:00 p.m. in asparsely gladed backcountry area immediately adjacent to Naeba. Theresort had received over three feet of new snow over the past week. Theslide travelled approximately 400 vertical feet before coming to rest,where it created a debris pile approximately 100 feet wide by 100 feetlong, according to Anthony. He, Mullin, and photographer Flip McCririckof Golden, Colorado were skiing in Naeba.
Anthony said he did not see Mullin when he was caught, but witnessed the avalanche as it pummelled numerous trees, then came to rest on a flatbench. He then skied down to the deposition area, where he immediatelypicked up Mullin’s signal. After pinpointing the victim’s location,Anthony freed Mullin’s head, which was buried approximately one footbeneaththe snow surface. Mullen was unconscious at the time of theburial, but regained consciousness at the scene. Once Mullin wascompletely excavated, McCririck stayed with him to control the bleedingwhile Anthony sought help from the Naeba ski patrol. A team ofpatrollers arrived back at the scene approximately one hour later andevacuated Mullin to a regional hospital. They were aided by ShawnNesbitt and Vincent Dorian, who had been skiing with the threesomeearlier in the day.
“I’ve never seen anything move so fast in my life,” said Anthony, whowas approximately 10 feet from the slide when it released. McCririck was also caught in the avalanche, but escaped almost immediately.
Without a transceiver, Mullin may have lost his life, Anthony concluded.
He and McCririck would have had to probe the entire deposition area. According to statistics from the American Avalanche Association,approximately 70 percent of avalanche fatalities are caused by suffocation; approximately 30 percent are the result of trauma. The majority of those who survive are recovered within 15 minutes of theburial.
“It was so quick,” Anthony said, regarding the Tracker DTS. “I put it in search mode and I had a direction and distance right away. I went thedirection it said and I found him less than 30 seconds later.”
Anthony said the three were skiing the off-piste area all morning inexceptional powder conditions, along with a larger group of freestyleskiers who were in Naeba to compete in the nationally-televised CoreGames. In the afternoon, the threesome skied an untracked area that wason a slightly different aspect than what they had skied in the morning.The resulting “powder frenzy” and their close proximity to the resortcreated a false sense of security, he said. “At that point, we weretaking minimum precautions,” said Anthony, an experienced backcountryskier. “There weren’t a lot of us wearing transceivers. It was one ofthose days where everyone left the hotel not expecting the kind ofconditions that we had. Fortunately, Ben and I never leave home withoutours.”
“I feel good for having been there for Ben,” Anthony said. “But it’stempered by the nonchalant attitude that was going on. Things could have easily gone the other way. I think this was a big wakeup call for everybody.”
“The underscore of this episode is never to let your guard down, “concluded Mullin. “Always put your seat belt on when you get in the car,so to speak. At least I was with the right guys. I’ll be foreverindebted to them–and to those beacons.”
The incident was the second time this year in which a Tracker DTS wasused to make a live avalanche victim recovery. On January 3, snowmobiler Jeff Swaan, 15, rescued friend Jesse Bowden, 18, under 6 feet of debris after a large snowslide near Quesnel, B.C. Both youths had received their Trackers as Christmas presents just one week before the accident occurred.
The Tracker DTS is the world’s first digital avalanche rescue transceiver. It was introduced in 1997 by Backcountry Access, Inc. ofBoulder, Colorado, touching off a revolution in user-friendly transceiver design. In 2001, the Tracker DTS become the top-selling avalanche transceiver in the world.