Frenchman's Creek Avalanche 02/16/14
2/17/2014 1:19:16 PM
Blaine County Sheriff’s Office
February 17, 2014
At 15:16 hours on 02/16/14 the Blaine County Emergency Communications Center received an emergency call for a technical avalanche rescue in the area of Frenchman’s Creek near the Salmon River head water in the Smiley Creek area, approximately 36 miles North of Ketchum. Ketchum Fire Department, Sun Valley Fire Department, Blaine County Sheriff’s Office and Blaine County Search and Rescue were dispatched to the scene.
Initial reports indicated that four snow mobile riders had been buried in a meadow by a natural made avalanche. However, upon further investigation the Sawtooth Avalanche Center has reported that the meadow was actually a natural avalanche pass and it appears that the fracture initiated when one of the victims stepped through the new snow slab and penetrated the old faceted layer at the ground. This caused a large collapse that propagated uphill and released the avalanche 9000 feet in elevation in the uppermost part of the path. The avalanche ran 1400 vertical feet. The debris was approximately 4-8 feet deep and 300-400 feet wide. It has been categorized as a size D3 avalanche which by definition can bury and destroy a car, damage a truck, destroy a wood frame house or break trees.
According to witnesses, at approximately 2:05 p.m. the avalanche broke from the top of the ridge and ran down the hill, across the meadow hitting and burying all four of them. Susan A. Swanton, age 56, and Robert C. Swanton, age 65, of Sutherlin, Oregon were able to extricate themselves from the avalanche and began searching for the other two snow machine riders. George Gilbert Martin, Jr., age 64 of Bellevue, Idaho was recovered first. Unable to locate a beacon signal for Lesley Dianne Martin, age 70 also of Bellevue, Idaho, Susan and Robert Swanton quickly rode the one unburied snowmobile to the highway where they flagged down assistance. Three other snowmobilers summoned by Robert and Susan were able to locate Lesley Martin using her beacon and assist in extricating her from the avalanche. Lesley Martin was transported to St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center by Ketchum Fire Department for hypothermic symptoms were was admitted in stable condition.
CPR was performed on George Gilbert Martin but they were not able to revive him. Martin was pronounced dead at the scene of the avalanche and his body was recovered by Blaine County Search and Rescue and released to Coroner Russ Mikel.
All four snow machine riders were wearing avalanche beacons. It is estimated that George Martin was buried for approximately 60 minutes and Lesley Martin was buried for 90 minutes. Blaine County Sheriff Gene D. Ramsey said, “The use of avalanche beacons was a critical tool locating the victims involved in this avalanche. We continue to stress that the backcountry is extremely unstable and we strongly encourage people to wear beacons and be properly equipped if they are not going to stay out of avalanche areas.”
The Blaine County Sheriff’s Office would like to acknowledge the outstanding collaborative assistance of the Ketchum Fire Department, Sun Valley Fire Department, Sawtooth Avalanche Center and members of the Blaine County Search and Rescue.
Sheriff Gene D. Ramsey