Survivors Describe Fatal Avalanche

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Monday, February 20, 2012 - 5:21pm

One of the survivors of a deadly avalanche in Washington State is thanking an avalanche airbag for saving her life.

The avalanche near Stevens Pass was preceded by a foot and a half of freshly fallen snow and brought out skiers of all skills, including pro skier Elyse Saugstad, who was seen with about a dozens others heading to a "ski-at-your-own-risk" area called "Seventh Heaven".

"We felt comfortable and safe being there," she says. "All of us were experienced back country skiers."

Then the avalanche came.

"It's amazing how quickly an avalanche happens and it progresses very rapidly into something major," Saugstad says now.

This one progressed into something deadly.

Three in her group were killed: Jim Jack, Chris Rudolph and John Brenan.

"We lost three amazing people, two of them who were my real good friends," says survivor Joel Hammond.

Saugstad inflated her avalanche airbag during the snow slide.

The device is intended to keep victims riding the top of an avalanche as opposed to being buried in it.

"Don't get me wrong, it's not like you're taking an inner tube ride down some snowy field," Saugstad says. "You are definitely in the avalanche and it feels like you are in a washing machine and you are being flipped and tumbled and it's white the entire way. It's very scary."

An avalanche warning had been posted for the area just hours prior to Sunday's tragedy.
 

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