Fairbanks man survives Turnagain Pass avalanche

Posted: Wednesday, January 03, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Michael McKinney of Fairbanks is an avalanche survivor.

McKinney, 31, was skiing on Monday when he was buried by a snow slide in Turnagain Pass. Rescuers found him -- bruised, cold but alive.

''This guy is very, very lucky to have wound up coming out of this thing alive,'' said Doug Fesler, avalanche hazard consultant for the Alaska Mountain Safety Center.

The avalanche was 100 to 300 yards wide and carried McKinney perhaps 1,000 feet down the steep slope, Fesler said. It was the same area where a massive avalanche in March 1999 killed six snowmachiners. The place is nicknamed Aaron's Last Run, after Aaron Arthur, one of the victims.

McKinney and a friend had parked their snowmachines and decided to ski and snowboard down the face of the slope on the west side of the Seward Highway.

''They jumped over the edge to go and that's when the mountain broke loose. It took the skier with it,'' said snowmachiner Chris Perez of Anchorage, who was atop the ridge.

The slide missed McKinney's partner. He told others he lost sight of McKinney in a white blur. He then went to find him on his snowboard.

Perez said a child who had watched the slide from below directed several people to the avalanche pile.

McKinney and his partner were wearing electronic beacons. The partner switched on his beacon to locate McKinney. Several snowmachiners joined the search.

They soon heard McKinney's voice rising from the snow.

''He was saying 'Help me God, please save me, somebody find me,''' Perez said. ''Just his mouth was sticking out and one hand.''

They dug McKinney out and dressed him in some warm clothes.

''He was pretty scared, shaken,'' Perez said.

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