When venturing into the backcountry, evaluating the avalanche hazard requires an understanding of the terrain, weather and snowpack of the area in which you intend to travel. Regardless of how much care is taken, it is possible that someone may be caught in an avalanche. Prior planning may help you or your partner survive.
Statistics indicate that a person found after being buried less than 15 minutes has a 90 percent chance of survival. Burial times of 30 minutes have a survival rate of 50 percent. (These statistics assume no traumatic injuries) Time is crucial. You or your companions provide the key to a successful rescue.
What Can You Do If Someone Is Caught and Buried in an Avalanche?
- Remember to breathe.
Since you were standing in a safe spot and practicing safe travel techniques, only one person was exposed at a time. This resulted in only one unfortunate burial rather than multiple burials with no immediate rescuers.
- Remember to beep.
Your partner was wearing an avalanche rescue beacon. You made certain your beacons were in good working order, and you practiced with them regularly. You and your partner were both wearing single-frequency 457 kHz transceivers turned to transmit when you left the car. This is when your practice will pay off. Now, turn your beacon to receive.
- Remember to look, listen and feel.
If you are confident there is no immediate danger to you as the rescuer, proceed with a rapid primary beacon search, while looking for surface clues such as equipment or a hand sticking out of the snow. Once you pick up the signal from your partner’s beacon, continue your search until you can pinpoint his location. At this point an avalanche probe will help you determine the exact location. Remember, never leave home without your beacon, probe and shovel. Now, start digging.
Written by Fay Johnson