Snowmachiner was not in closed area of Denali National Park

Posted: Tuesday, December 12, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A Fairbanks man who was killed in an avalanche was not snowmachining inside a closed area of Denali National Park and Preserve as first suspected, authorities said.

James W. Thompson, 44, was riding Saturday when an avalanche broke off a hill behind him and buried him. He was buried for only about 15 minutes before his friends dug him out, but they could not revive him despite performing CPR for about an hour, Alaska State Troopers said.

Thompson's friends had told troopers that Thompson was riding in Easy Pass. But it was later determined that the group was riding near Costello and Camp creeks, just south of Easy Pass and the wilderness boundary that separates the original Mount McKinley National Park and landed added in 1980 under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Snowmachining is not allowed in the old section of the park but is in the new section of the park because of stipulations in ANILCA.

''They were in the new park, they were not in the old park,'' north district ranger Tom Habecker with the National Park Service said Monday.

Cantwell trooper Rod Johnson, who went to investigate the scene Sunday, said the riders were likely in the first set of hills north of the Dunkel Mine, east of Costello Creek. The avalanche site was 16 miles from the Mile 196 pullout on the Parks Highway.

The terrain around Costello Creek is tamer than in Easy Pass, but it still features steep ravines and cut banks, as well as rolling hills, where current avalanche dangers are high on the south side of the Alaska Range.

''Any of those ravines are not good places to be,'' Habecker said. ''There's a lot of steep hills. Any steep ravine can go at any time.''

Habecker pointed out the avalanche that buried Thompson occurred on a hill behind him, not on the slope he was riding on. The avalanche caught Thompson as he descended a hill after helping a friend dig his snowmachine out of deep snow. Thompson was taken out on a snowmachine, not on a sled as previously reported.

Unlike some states in the northwest, the National Park Service will not close Alaska park lands when the avalanche danger is high, Habecker said.

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