Donny Rice, 01/12/02, Paxson, Snowmachiner, Avalanche
Jessica Rice, 01/12/02, Paxson, Snowmachiner, Avalanche

Dennis Lamont, 01/13/02, Kuskokwim River, Snowmachiner, Crash

Man, daughter killed in avalanche
SLIDE: They didn't realize they'd stopped on a ledge that was unsupported.'

By Tony Hopfinger, Anchorage Daily News (Published: January 14, 2002)

A father and daughter died and a woman was injured Saturday near Paxson when a snow ledge the snowmachiners stopped on broke apart, plunging the Fairbanks residents several hundred feet into a steep ravine.

Donny Rice, 35, and daughter Jessica Rice, 13, died, raising the number of Alaska avalanche fatalities this winter to five. Their bodies had not been recovered as of Sunday, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Susan Rice, 38, the third victim, suffered a hip injury and was dug out by her husband, Wesley Rice of Fairbanks.

The avalanche happened late Saturday afternoon in a treacherous area off the Richardson Highway near Summit Lake north of Paxson, troopers said.

Donny, Jessica and Susan had stopped their snowmachines on a cornice when it broke.

Troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson called it a freak accident.

"They didn't realize they had stopped on a ledge that was unsupported," he said. "They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Wesley Rice was not with the group at the time of the slide but was nearby to help.

He heard his wife screaming and climbed into the ravine, where he found her buried up to her neck. He dug her out and called 911 on a cellphone, Wilkinson said.

At first, a search helicopter could neither find Wesley and Susan nor land in the rough terrain. Two troopers on snowmachines eventually spotted the couple but were also unable to reach them because of the many boulders, drop-offs and cliffs scattered throughout the area, Wilkinson said.

The helicopter returned and rescued the couple by 10:40 p.m. Saturday. Besides Susan's hip injury, she and Wesley suffered hypothermia, troopers said.

Rescuers couldn't find Donny or Jessica and delayed the search until Sunday morning.

Mountain rescue groups, search dogs and an Air National Guard helicopter crew descended on the scene Sunday.

A pararescue member with the 210th Air Rescue was lowered into the avalanche area and found the victims' bodies in the morning.

"He touched the bodies and confirmed they were deceased," Wilkinson said.

Because the area is so treacherous, authorities decided it was too risky to recover the bodies. Wilkinson said troopers will monitor the conditions over the coming days but said it could be weeks before it is safe to do the recovery.

Three other people have died in avalanches across the state this winter, including two on snowmachines. This winter's five avalanche deaths compare with four last winter.

In a separate snowmachining accident this weekend, a Bethel man died early Sunday when his vehicle hit a snow berm while traveling an estimated 70 to 80 mph, troopers said.

Dennis Lamont, 24, of Bethel, was riding on the Kuskokwim River about 5 1/2 miles from Bethel when the accident happened. Troopers said Lamont is believed to have been drinking before the crash.

Reporter Tony Hopfinger can be reached at or 907-257-4344.

ADN, 02/07/02 PAXSON

Fairbanks rescue group recovers bodies of pair killed in avalanche

The bodies of a father and his teenage daughter killed in an avalanche last month in the Alaska Range were recovered this week by members of the Alaska Alpine Rescue Group of Fairbanks, authorities said.

On Tuesday, searchers found the remains of Jessica M. Rice, 14, and Donnie Rice, 35, both of Fairbanks, in a steep ravine by the Cantwell Glacier about 30 miles north of Paxson, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Jessica's body, found first, was transported by a troopers helicopter the same day. Her father's body was flown out Wednesday after darkness and snowfall forced searchers to camp on the glacier Tuesday evening, troopers said.

The two were killed Jan. 12 while snowmachining with others near the Richardson Highway. A cornice, or snow ledge, broke away beneath them after they and a third person, Susan Rice, 38, had pulled to a stop on it.

All three were cast down the mountain and into the ravine. Susan Rice's husband, Wesley Rice of Fairbanks, was nearby and heard his wife screaming. He climbed into the ravine and found her buried to her neck. After digging her out, he called 911.

Rescuers in a helicopter and on snowmachines had a difficult time finding Wesley and Susan Rice and struggled to reach them through boulders and cliffs. Eventually the couple was pulled out and flown to treatment.

Susan Rice injured her hip, and both she and her husband suffered hypothermia.

The father and daughter were not found until the following morning. Rescuers decided not to recover their bodies because of dangerous terrain and snow conditions.

The Rice family turned to the Alaska Alpine Rescue Group to bring the bodies out, troopers said.

-- Anchorage Daily News