Nikolai Metashvili, 05-13-99

Anchorage Daily News
Tuesday, May 18, 1999

By Natalie Phillips, Daily News Reporter

An avalanche killed a Sitka university student who was hiking on Friday, bringing the number of avalanche fatalities in Alaska this year to 13.

Twenty-year-old Nikolai Metashvili was killed around 12:15 p.m. as the avalanche carried him 900 feet down a steep ravine near Blue Lake, about six miles east of Sitka. His friend, Alton McAllister, 22, managed to leap out of the way and yell for help, according to Capt. Don Kluting, head of the Sitka Fire Department Search and Rescue unit.

A Forest Service worker in the area heard the rumble of the slide and the cries for help and Also immediately radioed for help, Kluting said. McAllister, who suffered only scrapes and bruises, quickly found Metashvili, who was partially buried in the avalanche debris. Metashvili suffered severe trauma from striking rocks and trees and died instantly, Kluting said.

The slide was wet and loose, like a slurry of concrete. The steepness of the ravine and Friday's hot, sunny weather contributed to the slide. The road to Blue Lake had only recently been cleared of snow and opened.

Metashvili's was the first avalanche death in the Sitka area since the late 1950s, Kluting said. Around the state this year, avalanches have killed eight snowmobilers, two snowboarders, one climber, and a heavy-equipment operator. Metashvili is the first hiker to die.

In the 1970s, Alaska averaged 2.3 avalanche deaths per winter, according to Dale Atkins, a avalanche forecaster who compiles national statistics for the Avalanche Forecast Center in Colorado. In the 1980s, Alaska's average dropped to 1.4 deaths per winter. In the early 1990s, the average was 4.7 deaths per winter. But in the past five years, the average has jumped to 6.4.