Man and his snowmachine rescued from crevasse

Posted: Wednesday, November 27, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- With savvy and muscle, eight members of the Northern Lights Snowmachine Club helped rescue a snowmachiner stuck for an hour in a crevasse near Summit Lake.

The eight were part of a group of about 14 people who pulled the man and his snowmachine out of the hole near the College Glacier.

''I really appreciate those guys,'' said Paul White of Anchorage. ''I'm certainly grateful for them. It really makes you appreciate life much more.''

White said he was able to ride his sled off of the glacier that day thanks to the experienced crew.

He said he was snowmachining about 15 miles away from the Richardson Highway on Sunday and saw the hole a little too late. He hit his brakes, then fell head first down the shaft about 30 feet until he landed on a snow bridge.

''I managed to get turned around and get my feet under me,'' White said. ''But there was no way I could climb up because the walls were all ice.''

He had lost his helmet and one glove and quickly started to get cold.

''I didn't have a whole lot of hope,'' White said.

But luck was on his side. The area around Summit Lake was crawling with snowmachiners. Because of the lack of snow across the state, snowmachiners flocked to the area north of Paxson over the weekend.

''There's no place else to ride. That's forcing us to go further and further back,'' said Ron Lutrell, one of the rescuers.

Lutrell said the eight of them -- Lutrell, Chuck Hess, Chris Nichols, Scott Strout, Matt Gladieux, Cliff Millard, Bill Paddock and Chuck ''Zeke'' Veitenheimer -- were taking a lunch break nearby when a ''frantic man rode up and says his buddy is in a crevasse.''

The eight consisted of six active duty Air Force and two civilian employees at the base who had met on their off hours for a weekend of snowmachining. They happened to be near the crevasse when the man fell in.

When they got to crevasse, they could see a sled wedged upside about 10 feet down in the hole and they could hear a voice shouting up at them. White was about 20 feet below his sled.

''It was not like a great, big long crevasse like you'd think. It was more like a wind rift,'' Lutrell said.

What made the situation more precarious was another crevasse that was located a few feet behind the group while they were working.

''The concern was the whole thing that we were standing on could break free,'' Lutrell said.

Lutrell, vice president of the North Pole area snowmachine club and a civilian worker at Eielson Air Force Base, and Chuck Hess, a technical sergeant at the maintenance squadron on base, took charge of the rescue efforts.

Many in the snowmachining club have attended avalanche rescue training at the Alaska Mountain Safety Center. Lutrell said ever since he attended the class, he's carried shovels, rope and beacons with him while snowmachining.

They were able to lower a radio down to White. From there, they determined the snowmachine was firmly wedged in the hole.

Next, they lowered a rope down to lift him up. They ran into problems when the rope tightened around White's chest and he cried out for a knife to cut him loose.

Lutrell was then lowered and stood on the snowmachine while he handed the man the knife to cut himself loose. Then he instructed him how to tie a better knot.

''I've never stood on the track of a snowmachine before and believe me I didn't jump up and down and check the suspension,'' Lutrell said.

If it gave way, Lutrell gave special instructions to other members of the group.

''Before I went down I told those guys, 'No matter what, don't let go of that rope,'' he said.

Once they had both Lutrell and White out, Hess went down after the man's sled.

''There's no sense in leaving it there. There were enough guys there that we could get it out,'' he said. With three of his friends and a snowmachine anchoring him, Hess was lowered down until he was able to tie a strap around the trailing arms and the machine was hoisted out.

The snowmachine started on the first pull and the rescued man was able to ride it out.

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