Snowmachiner caught in avalanche

Posted: Tuesday, February 18, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- While waiting for the rescue helicopter to arrive, Lucas VanBebber's friends worked to keep him warm and stable.

Their friend was bruised and battered, his snowmachine totaled, after being caught in an avalanche. For two hours they hoped for the best until the helicopter touched down to take VanBebber to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.

VanBebber, 28, was in critical condition Monday night, a hospital spokeswoman said.

VanBebber left his home at Slime Creek with five friends at about 10:45 a.m. Saturday. The group planned on doing some skiing, said Ben Johnson, 29, a member of the snowmachining party.

The snowmachiners split up into two groups. Johnson was a little behind VanBebber and Luke Lohnuller, when he saw the avalanche hit.

''I would say that the tip of it broke off at two and a half, three feet deep. And it was probably 40 feet wide at the top and then it fanned out bigger. It probably ran 1,500 vertical feet until it stopped,'' Johnson said.

Alaska State Troopers placed the location of the avalanche about 4.5 miles east of Mile 219.5 of the Parks Highway.

Johnson and another member of the group, Mike Speaks, are emergency medical technicians. They helped stabilize VanBebber after the avalanche while Lohnuller took his snowmachine and rode seven miles before reaching a truck, then driving another eight miles to call police.

Lohnuller called 911. The helicopter began transporting VanBebber to the hospital at 3:45 p.m., said Healy Trooper Patrick Nelson.

Other members of the snowmachine party included Carlo Creek dog musher Eric O'Berg, 25, and Becky Warren, 28, Johnson's partner in running Denali Mountain Morning Hostel.

''We always try to be prepared for this kind of thing. We've all taken classes at one time or another,'' Johnson said.

Three members of the group carried avalanche beacons. Each had extra clothing they used to keep VanBebber warm.

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