Avalanche Death

Around 4:30 PM the evening of July 2 nd , the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office was notified of an avalanche incident around 12,500 feet on Split Mountain, above Red Lake, near Big Pine.

A party of three hikers had been caught in a wet slide avalanche while descending the mountain after summitting earlier in the day. Two sustained minor to moderate injuries. Sadly, one
sustained major injuries, leading to his death.

Before responding, Inyo SAR studied the weather, terrain, and access route. They concluded the avalanche hazard to the team was low later in the day, and they should proceed with the mission.
However, access by vehicle and foot was problematic and time consuming, due to road conditions and the steep trail.
SAR helicopter VX-31 from China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station aided with the transportation of 4 Inyo SAR volunteers to Red Lake (10,466 feet) later that evening. The SAR team then ascended nearly 2,000 vertical feet on foot to the avalanche site. After locating the
party, they came back down to Red Lake to spend the night, planning to assist extraction of the decedent by helicopter the following morning due to the altitude, terrain and darkness. Before
leaving, VX-31 helicopter evacuated the two injured subjects from near Red Lake.

On the morning of July 3, California Highway Patrol Helicopter H-80 flew up from Apple Valley, picked up one team member at Red Lake and attempted a recovery of the decedent. However, weather conditions were too adverse, forcing them to return to Red Lake unsuccessful. Following that, the Inyo SAR rescuers again ascended the 2,000 feet, packaged the subject, and lowered him down to Red Lake via roped litter, where H-80 was waiting.

This is currently the fourth serious mission in three weeks (three fatalities, one serious injury) where the snow was the primary contributing factor. Combine snow, with inexperience, and you
have a formula for an accident. The warm temperatures are creating very unforgiving snow conditions. If you slip while on a steep, soft snow slope, you likely will not be able to stop your fall. Furthermore, melting snow can suddenly release rocks on steep slopes, creating an unusually high risk of rockfall.

Getting formal snow travel and avalanche training before going on steep snow slopes could save your life. Also, please remember rescues can take many hours or even days, especially when
weather, terrain, and conditions are not ideal.