Avalanche incident leaves Grand County Search and Rescue workers howling
March 6, 2008
Not only did the case of the victim caught in an avalanche this week have a happy ending, but it’s one they are still laughing about at the Grand County Sheriff’s Office.
About 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Deputy Neal McQuarie was on patrol on U.S. Highway 40 when he heard a radio message from Dave Darrington of Grand County Search and Rescue who reported that “possibly one person” had been caught in an avalanche in the Hurd Creek area east of Tabernash. Darrington requested that all available Search and Rescue personnel respond to the scene.
Grand County EMS had also heard Darrington’s message and radioed that it was responding to the scene with an ambulance and paramedics.
Deputy McQuarie decided to assist in the emergency situation. Activating the siren and overhead emergency lights of his patrol car, he sped on his way to the scene.
Greg Foley, a Grand County Search and Rescue incident commander, also heard the original dispatch call about the person being caught in the avalanche. Already in the Tabernash area, he drove immediately down County Road 814 where the avalanche was reported to have taken place.
As he was driving, Foley said he heard a second dispatch call that a Search and Rescue team member was the one “involved” in the avalanche.
“When I heard it was one of our team members, that added extra urgency,” Foley said. “We have a special code when it’s a team member who is a victim.”
Foley was the first of the responders to reach the scene where he found Jenny Beltman, a Search and Rescue team member. She told him that it was “Monkey,” her dog that had been caught in the avalanche. “Monkey” is a trained Search and Rescue search dog.
Hearing this, Foley immediately radioed to Grand County EMS to “stand down” because it was an animal who was the avalanche victim. He also radioed Search and Rescue members to “slow down” on their drive into the Hurd Creek area because County Road 814 was very icy at that time.
As they waited for the arrival of the other rescuers, Beltman told Foley that “Monkey” and she had gone for a walk from their home on County Road 814 as night was falling. The dog had bounded ahead and climbed a steep hillside on the north side of the roadway where it triggered a 100-foot-wide avalanche that slid down and across the road.
Although it was nearly dark when the avalanche began, Beltman reported that she had seen “Monkey” being swept down the slope by the snowslide but had lost sight of the dog when it was near the bottom. When the avalanche came to rest, Beltman could not find the dog and assumed it was buried under the snow.
Meanwhile, Grand County Search and Rescue members, Sheriff’s Deputy McQuarie and several local residents arrived at the avalanche scene. They immediately began digging through the snow with shovels and using avalanche probes in an attempt to find the dog. A local resident even brought in his Bobcat excavator to help dig through the snow.
More than 25 rescuers toiled for about an hour trying to find the dog, but the search was proving fruitless. As more and more would-be rescuers arrived on the scene, Beltman was told to go home.
It was only a short walk to her house, but Beltman had a surprise when she arrived. Waiting patiently for her on the doorstep was “Monkey,” who appeared to be unharmed. She immediately radioed Foley with the news.
Foley was philosophical about the incident, saying the dog must have “self-rescued” and then was not seen in the darkness because night had fallen.
“We normally don’t find live avalanche victims, so it’s always good to find one alive,” he said. “This incident was a tough one to manage because so many people were arriving to help with the search. But it turned out to be good training for all of us at Search and Rescue.”
After “Monkey” was found, Grand County Road and Bridge arrived on the scene and plowed the avalanche off the roadway to reopen County Road 814.