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Skier Wearing Black Diamond AvaLung Survives Avalanche
The story here, plus two de-briefings.
Tuesday, March 5, 2002

February 28, 2002 -- Salt Lake City. Black Diamond Equipment recently learned that a man wearing its AvaLung II avalanche breathing device survived a serious avalanche while skiing in Canada. Reports indicate that four members of a ten person guided helicopter - skiing group originating in Revelstoke, BC were caught and buried in the slide. One member was only partially buried. The other three were fully buried and located grouped together in a natural terrain trap. Members of the group uncovered the lone survivor, an American man, after an estimated 35-45 minutes under approximately six feet of debris. The man was found unconscious, in a supine position, breathing through the AvaLung mouthpiece. He regained consciousness upon being uncovered. The other two buried adjacent to him were both found dead , one of them being a UIAA Swiss guide with the group. Neither of the deceased wore an AvaLung.

The original AvaLung was introduced by Black Diamond in 1999 after extensive controlled burials and testing in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. Breakthrough data learned during these tests was published in the Journal of American Medical Association, May 3, 2001. The AvaLung is a revolutionary breathing device that enables a buried avalanche victim to draw air from the snow surrounding them allowing the user to breathe while awaiting rescue. Redesigned in 2001, the new streamlined AvaLung II continues to gain acceptance among avalanche professionals, ski patrol, backcountry skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers.

Black Diamond has received confirmed reports in recent years of avalanche victims in Europe and North America surviving with the aid of the AvaLung. Designed to be used in conjunction with an avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe, and reliable partners, the AvaLung is not intended to supplant the need for proper avalanche education or protocol but rather should be used in conjunction with it. The accompanying documents include a news story about the accident and the transcript of an interview of the survivor by independent Avalanche Forecast Professional and Colorado Avalanche Information Center Director Dale Atkins. Last year a record number of 45 deaths were the result of avalanches in North America. This winter 2001-2002, a total of 28 deaths have been recorded due to avalanches in the USA and Canada.

Black Diamond Equipment Ltd. is an employee owned manufacturer of equipment for rock climbing, alpinism and backcountry skiing. Black Diamond's family of brands including Ascension, Beal Ropes, Bibler Tents, Franklin Climbing Equipment and Scarpa Mountain Boots encompass product offerings which run the gamut from indoor climbing to year round outdoor pursuits.

Additional information on the AvaLung II can be found on www.Avalung.com or www.BlackDiamondEquipment.com

-- Black Diamond AvaLung Survivor Interview

Interview with the victim/survivor of the avalanche conducted by AvaLung Product Group Manager Jordy Margid of Black Diamond Equipment.

* Time of burial - 35 - 45 minutes according to the helicopter pilot.
* Burial Depth - 6 feet at hip.
* Position - semi supine, head up.
* Avalung model - A2 (gift from his girlfriend).
* Age: 44.
* Height 62".
* Weight: 195.
* Physical conditioning - excellent

Accident Report:

Victim had just skied a pitch and stopped at the bottom with others in the guided group. He looked up and saw the slide coming at him and put the AvaLung in his mouth (he had practiced with the AvaLung on a regular basis prior to the trip). He was hit by a "large slide" and was buried instantly ? he struggled to stay on the surface but could not. He tried to keep his hands over his face and mouth, but as the slide set up, his hands were torn away. When the slide set, he had little, if any, pressure on his chest, but he was completely unable to move. Snow was packed in his ears and nose, but his mouth stayed clear due to the mouthpiece. He said it was not at all difficult to keep the mouthpiece in his mouth.

He first thought, "I'm breathing and I'll be fine. I'm just going to relax and wait to get dug out." As time went on, he started thinking that his entire group could have been buried and that there would be no one on the surface to dig him out. As more time went on, he started thinking he was going to die and tried to figure out how he was going to die. He went unconscious for the last part of his burial (he thinks about 5 minutes but does not know for sure). As soon as he was dug out, he came to. Dr. Colin Grissom MD, who conducted all the test burials during the development of the AvaLung believes this is due to hypercapnia - breathing too fast due to panic. The victim said that he and others in the rescue party attribute his survival to the AvaLung.

-- Black Diamond AvaLung - Helicopter Ski Operation De-Brief

Interview of Senior Guide of Helicopter Ski Operation conducted by Dr. Thomas Crowley of the University of Colorado, inventor of the AvaLung.

I spoke with the, Senior Guide at the Helicopter Ski operation. I explained who I am, and that we had heard rumors that they had experienced an accident that involved an AvaLung. I said that we have done extensive testing in controlled burials, but that we need all the information we can get on the AvaLung's performance in actual field accidents. I promised him full confidentiality, to whatever extent he wishes.

He responded that he saw no reason to withhold information. Early last week they had an accident. Four were buried, one only partially. Three "went for a ride". Those three were carried to a terrain trap, and all were deposited within a few meters of each other. The heads of all three were about 1.5 to 2 meters deep, and they were beside each other. All three were dug free at about the same time after burial. Two victims were not wearing AvaLungs, and they could not be resuscitated. At least one was a guide. The third victim (a guest) was wearing an AvaLung II. He was "taking baby breaths" and "unconscious" but "not blue" and he "woke right up" after extraction.

The Senior Guide was present during a later debriefing of the survivor. The victim had heard a warning, crouched down, fumbled a little with the tubing but crammed the mouthpiece into his mouth and "went for a ride". He clamped down on the mouthpiece with his teeth, but could not hold onto it with his hands. He could not clear an airspace in front of his face because his hands had been forced out to his sides, However, he said that he had no problem keeping the mouthpiece in his mouth. After stopping he relaxed immediately; "like we teach them", said the Senior Guide. The guest had no significant trauma and wanted to ski again a couple of days later.

The Senior Guide did not know whether the fatalities had any physical trauma; their autopsies will reveal that. I told him that I got a real shiver from this, and he said that we had developed something that no one would have even guessed about a few years ago. I said that it really sounded as though this case demonstrated the AvaLungs effectiveness, and he answered, "It's an overwhelming case".

Posted by Ari Cheren, MountainZone.com Staff