Summit avalanche kills one
Four Berkeley students spent hours buried beneath an avalanche on Donner Summit Saturday, until one of the victims, 21-year-old Harry Eichelberger, managed to dig himself out and summon aid from a nearby cabin, authorities said. All of the victims were rescued, but one later succumbed to hypothermia.
The avalanche occurred in the Donner Summit area, south of Old Highway 40 and east of the Sugar Bowl Ski Area near Mary Lake, at approximately 4:30 p.m., according to a report released by Nevada County Sheriff’s Sgt. Bill Evans.
The four students were hiking in the area when the avalanche occurred.
“Approximately three hours into the ordeal, one of the victims, a 21-year-old male Berkeley student, was able to free himself from the avalanche and summon aid from a nearby cabin,” Evans said. “Within six hours[of the incident], all of the victims had been recovered from the avalanche.”
Eichelberger, who had been buried under about three feet of snow, made his way to an isolated cabin where a group of cross-country skiers from a Dartmouth alumni group were staying. According to published reports, they followed him out to the avalanche site and probed the snow with ski poles, rakes, brooms and mops in an attempt to locate the other victims. All three were located within 30 minutes.
Donner Summit Fire Department responded to the scene with Medic 81, a rescue unit and snowmobiles. Medic 81 transported Malcolm Russell Hart, 21, who was suffering from hypothermia and in cardiac arrest, to Tahoe Forest Hospital. Paramedics conducted CPR on him before and during transit, but were unable to save Hart, who was pronounced dead at Tahoe Forest Hospital.
The two other victims, 21-year-old Derek Lerch and 20-year-old Marisa Nelson, were treated and released from Tahoe Forest Hospital. Nelson and Hart’s temperatures had dropped below 80 degrees.
Bob Moore, a winter sports specialist and avalanche forecaster with the U.S. Forest Service in Truckee, said the avalanche was probably due to the heavy rain on Saturday, which saturated the snowpack.
“There was real wet, heavy snow on a firmer base,” Moore said. “Unfortunately, the four of them added extra loading, which caused it to release.”
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