His air dwin­dling, avalanche sur­vivor faced ‘the in­evitable’

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Ni­cholas K. Geran­ios

Buried un­der about 10 feet of snow af­ter an avalanche last week at an Idaho ski re­sort, Bill Fuzak made peace with his predica­ment and pre­pared for death.

“I had al­ready rel­e­gated my­self to the in­evitable as I knew the air would not last long,” Fuzak, 62, wrote on a pub­lic Face­book page for skiers. “I’m re­ally sur­prised how calm I felt but knew there was noth­ing I could do but wait and pray.”

His prayers were an­swered. Fuzak be­came one of four sur­vivors ex­tri­cated from Tues­day’s avalanche at the Sil­ver Moun­tain Re­sort near Kel­logg, Idaho. Two other skiers were killed, and the body of a third skier was re­cov­ered Thurs­day.

Fuzak, a skier who lives in the nearby Spokane, Wash­ing­ton, area, said he was en­tombed in the snow for about 50 min­utes, much longer than most avalanche sur­vivors.

Un­able to move any­thing but his right hand, he cleared snow from his face and mouth. At some point, he passed out.

“The first thing I re­mem­ber when com­ing back to con­scious­ness was a group of res­cuers cheer­ing that a sur­vivor had been lo­cated: me,” Fuzak wrote in what he called a “per­sonal sum­mary” on Face­book about the or­deal.

Fuzak wrote that he was among a group of skiers and snow­board­ers he knew, head­ing down Ward­ner Peak on a dif­fi­cult run called 16-to-1 about 11 a.m. Tues­day.

“’The snow started to frac­ture above us as well as below us and the slide started to prop­a­gate and ac­cel­er­ate,” he wrote.

Fuzak then fell and said he started “swim­ming to try and stay on top of the slide.”

The slide even­tu­ally stopped. Com­pletely buried, Fuzak man­aged to punch a hole through the snow that let air flow in.

“Within sec­onds, an­other, more pow­er­ful slide hit and buried my breath­ing hole un­der what felt like feet of snow,” Fuzak wrote. “At this point I tried to calm my breath­ing and con­serve air.”

He passed out and then woke up to cheers from the res­cuers and a ski pa­trol mem­ber hold­ing his hand.

“My hands and feet were ex­tremely cold but I was un­in­jured, breath­ing and mov­ing well,” Fuzak wrote. “I was more than ready to get out of my en­case­ment; afraid that a 3rd slide would bury me again.”

The avalanche came af­ter the ski re­sort in the Idaho Pan­han­dle re­ceived heavy snow and re­sort crews used ex­plo­sives the morn­ing of the slide to try to re­duce avalanche threats on Ward­ner Peak, where all of the runs are rated as dif­fi­cult.

Fuzak and three other skiers who were not iden­ti­fied were res­cued, but two skiers died. They were iden­ti­fied by the Shoshone County Sher­iff’s Of­fice as Carl Humphreys, 58, of

Lib­erty Lake, Wash­ing­ton, and Scott Par­sons, 46, of Spokane Val­ley, Wash­ing­ton.

The re­sort did not re­al­ize that an­other skier was miss­ing un­til a day af­ter the avalanche, when it re­ceived a call Wed­nes­day from a con­cerned fam­ily mem­ber un­able to get in touch with that per­son.

That prompted searchers to re­sume their hunt Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day.

Shoshone County Sher­iff Mike Gun­der­son told KHQ-TV that a third body buried un­der the avalanche was found Thurs­day by searchers in a he­li­copter and iden­ti­fied as the per­son re­ported miss­ing Wed­nes­day. He said there were no other re­ports of miss­ing per­sons on the moun­tain.

Dur­ing the win­ter of 2018-19, 25 peo­ple died in avalanches in the coun­try, The Spokesman-Re­view news­pa­per re­ported. Peo­ple who are buried in snow for more than 30 min­utes have a lower chance of sur­vival than those res­cued more quickly, the news­pa­per said.

The Idaho Pan­han­dle Avalanche Cen­ter will in­ves­ti­gate the cause of the avalanche, the re­sort said.

DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-RE­VIEW

Bill Fuzak, who was en­tombed un­der 10 feet of snow for about 50 min­utes, poses at his home in Col­bert, Wash.

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