Avalanche kills snowmachiner
by Hugh Curran, ADN 3/29/94
The body of a 21-year-old Anchorage man buried in an avalanche while snowmachining with a friend was recovered late Monday night near Powerline Pass in Chugach State Park. About 75 rescue workers worked late into the night searching for Brandon Ford, who was buried under an estimated 20 to 40 feet of snow at 3:20 p.m., said Dan Hurihan, chairman of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group.
Ford was found about 10:30 p.m. The site is about five miles from the Glen Alps parking lot, in the same area as a December 1990 avalanche that killed snowmachiner Curt Falldorf. FalIdorf's body was found under 34 feet of snow after a week of searching.
Some of Ford's rescuers had earlier in the day been searching for another snowmachiner trapped in a Sunday avalanche at Cooper Landing.
Alaska State Troopers said the body of Jeffrey Ransom, 35, of Kasilof, was found shortly after noon Monday. He and a friend were near Lost Lake when they triggered an avalanche shortly before 3 p.m. Sunday.
On Powerline Pass Monday afternoon, skiers John McMahon and Tony Stalion were about a mile away from Ford and his unidentified friend when they saw the avalanche.
McMahon said Ford was following behind his friend as the two raced their snowmachines in a crisscrossing pattern up and down the sides of a steep bowl when the snow gave way.
"I thought it was weird when I saw them because it seemed like such a dangerous idea; it just seemed dangerous and senseless," McMahon said. "One guy shot up to the top of the bowl and started making his turn to come down when I saw the crack in the snow form. I never saw (Brandon) come up after that."
McMahon and Stalion then waved down two other snowmachiners in the area and rode with them to the scene, arriving about six minutes after the avalanche.
"The guy said his partner was buried in the snow somewhere but didn't know where," McMahon said.
"There was no sign of (Brandon)," Stalion said. "We started screaming out the guy's name and poking down into the snow with our ski poles. They were all we had."
McMahon and Stalion estimated the side of the bowl was at a 40-degree angle and said the snow remaining on the ridge's overhang after the avalanche was 6 feet deep.
Paul Bezilla with Mountain Rescue said conditions have been ripe for avalanches.
"These are extremely hazardous conditions what with the weather we've been having for the last couple of months," Bezilla said. "All of Chugach Park has been under a warning because of it. People should
take extreme caution with this stuff."
Bezilla said snow in the area has formed into a hard slab because of strong winds in February. That snow has been topped with granular snow which, when combined with recent warm temperatures, creates prime avalanche conditions.
By 4 p.m., a rescue crew consisting of Alaska State Troopers, Chugach Park Rangers and the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group began assembling at the Glen Alps parking lot to search for Ford.
A trooper helicopter started shuttling rescuers to the scene, and by 5:30 p.m. teams of snowmachiners began pulling carts with food, water and needed equipment such as 10-foot-long poles, sticks with red flags and transmitters.
Greg Goodale with Mountain Rescue said the search began by probing the snow with poles in a random pattern. As more rescuers arrived, they began to line up side by side, probing the snow in 10-foot intervals.
Volunteer rescuers arrived throughout the night. A Red Cross van was at the parking lot to distribute food and coffee.
Ford's family, including his mother and wife, arrived at the Glen Alps staging area shortly before 8 p.m.
Al Meiners, superintendent of Chugach State Park, said the slab of snow that broke loose was 9 feet thick at the top of the slab.