Two Bodies Recovered From Twin Lakes AvalancheA cautionary “Avalanche Area” sign sits to the right of the staging area where Lake County Search and Rescue Teams prepare to recover two bodies from Saturday’s deadly avalanche west of Twin Lakes. Photo: Leadville Today.
At noon on Sunday, February 15, the Lake County Sheriff’s office confirmed two fatalities in the avalanche located about one mile beyond the La Plata parking area, west of Twin Lakes, Colo. The identities of the seven people involved in the avalanche were released by the Lake County Office of Emergency Management Monday afternoon as follows:
- Carl Bryan, age 31, from Twin Lakes, CO
- Katie Bryan, age 30 from Twin Lakes, CO
- Scott Smelcer, age 28, from Twin Lakes, CO
- Ben Hartt, age 38 from Wisconsin
- Seth Neilsen, age 30, from Wisconsin
- Jarrard Law, age 34, Portage, Wisconsin – fatality in the avalanche
- Justin Lentz, age 32, Sun Prairie, Wisconsin – fatality in the avalanche
The initial call came into the Lake County Dispatch Center at approximately 4:50 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15 according to Lake County Public Information Officer Betty Benson. The call was made by one of the seven skiers in the group after witnessing the avalanche. Reports from the scene indicated that two of the skiers witnessed the avalanche from the top of the ridge and immediately attempted communication. Apparently, after several attempts to pick up a cell phone signal in the remote area, the connection proved successful and the call went through to emergency services.
“If that hadn’t happened, we might not have heard about it and been able to get to them that night,” explained Benson.
Map of area: CLICK to Enlarge,
But fortunately the call did go through, and when Lake County emergency crews arrived at the scene, they discovered that two of the skiers were able to walk away, three of the skiers had incurred injuries and were rushed to St. Vincent Hospital in Leadville. But by the time night fell on Saturday, Feb. 15, two of the original seven skiers were still missing. That’s a tough day to see the sun go down on, because it means that search efforts are called off, scheduled to resume at first light on Sunday.View of the two powerful snowslides, the one on the right claimed the lives of skiers.
But even daylight doesn’t guarantee that recovery efforts resume immediately. While time saves lives in rescue response, taking time saves the lives of first responders, especially when rescue missions transition from search to recovery. Once the situation was deemed secure for recovery efforts, the arduous task of breaking trail through waist deep snow began early Sunday morning. And if there was one word consistently used in describing the terrain in that area, it was STEEP.
It took Lake County Search and Rescue teams about two hours to locate the two victims and then several additional hours to stage a sled recovery plan, keeping the safety of responders in mind as they worked in a clearly marked “Avalanche Area.” Collaborative efforts were described as seamless as they respectfully brought the bodies down off the mountain.This photo shows the crown face (5-7′) at the avalanche start zone. Notice that the snow is almost completely gone from the start zone. Photo courtesy of the Lake County Office of Emergency Management.
It’s always good to know that when duty calls, the pettiness of day to day disagreements fade away and the cooperation of emergency responders shines through, even if the end result is still tragic.LCOEM SAR worker stands in the avalance path. Photo: LCOEM.
So thank you to the following departments who were on the scene to assist this weekend: Lake County Sheriff and deputies; the Lake County Emergency Manager; Lake County Public Works; St. Vincent Hospital EMS/ambulance; Leadville/Lake County Fire and Rescue; Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado Avalanche Information Center; Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment; Lake County Search and Rescue teams.The lure of backcountry adventure is strong, but with record snowfall in areas like Twin Lakes, officials continue to warn of avalanche danger. Photo: Leadville Today