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First responder recounts saving Millcreek Canyon avalanche survivors by helicopter

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Intermountain Healthcare LifeFlight is the only civilian program in the country that is authorized to make helicopter hoist rescues. Their service is vital during emergencies like the avalanche in Millcreek Canyon. (KUTV)

Rescuers worked for hours on Saturday, saving skiers trapped in the Millcreek Canyon avalanche. Conditions were so unstable that rescuers had to be lowered to the mountain by helicopter to bring the survivors up to safety.

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Intermountain Healthcare LifeFlight is the only civilian program in the country that is authorized to make helicopter hoist rescues. Their service is vital during emergencies like the avalanche in Millcreek Canyon.

When conditions are too dangerous to land, the rescuers are hooked to a hoist cable and are lowered and lifted hundreds of feet at a time from a helicopter.

"One of our goals is just, on the ground, is to treat life threats and leave,” said Rick Black, the Chief Flight Paramedic.

Black helped pull three of the four Millcreek Canyon avalanche survivors off of the mountain.

All you had to do was look into these individuals' eyes and know that they had gone through one of the worst days of their lives," Black said, "and my heart goes out to them.”

READ: Family, friends remember skiers killed in Millcreek Canyon avalanche

Black said this one is especially hard, as he's an avid backcountry skier himself.

"When I'm hoisted into these rescue situations, these are my people, this is my community that I am coming to serve,” he said.

Black's message to others like him who love the backcountry is to take the time to evaluate your own safety practices.

"To make sure that, in memory of those that lost their lives, that we are safe, that this kind of thing doesn't happen again,” he said.

LifeFlight doesn't work alone. They work with local search and rescue teams, fire departments, sheriff’s offices, the Department of Public Safety, as well as other air medical teams, all to bring help to those who need it as quickly as possible.

A new tracking technology is being tested in Utah that could help save those caught in an avalanche.

The technology is mainly used in the military, but the creators were just in Utah testing it at Snowbird resort to see how it can help track people trapped in an avalanche.

The tracking technology is called Atos. It was created by Tough Stump Technologies. During the test at Snowbird, they buried the small tracking devices in up to five feet of snow. They were able to successfully locate them and navigate others to their location.

The CEO, Jarrett Heavenson, said this technology is different from standard avalanche beacons that just send out a ping of their location, or are dependent on cellular or satellite technology.

“Our technology is actually sending out a GPS location,” Heavenson said. "And you can send that position to other people on the team, so that they can navigate to it as well."

He said the signal can be received a thousand meters or more away from a tag, and the receivers can track up to 100 tags though a smartphone. It shows real time positions on a map and can broadcast the location of the tags.

Heavenson said they are in the early stages of release, but in the future the technology will help in many rescue scenarios.

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