Faster, safer avalanche rescue

Alaska Electric Light & Power Inc. has purchased a piece of equipment — a long-range receiver that mounts to a helicopter — that will make avalanche rescues faster, more efficient and less dangerous for rescue workers.

“With avalanche rescue, essentially you have 20 minutes, half an hour at the most,” Mike Janes, AEL&P Avalanche Forecaster, said. “It comes down to just reducing the amount of time it takes to get someone unburied. Even a couple of minutes can make a huge difference in the likelihood of a live recovery.”

This new technology will increase the likelihood of finding buried avalanche victims alive.

Janes said the primary reason AEL&P purchased the long-range receiver was to aid forecasters and linemen potentially caught in avalanches, but they’ve chosen to store the device at Coastal Helicopters so it’s available to Juneau Mountain Rescue, Eaglecrest Ski Patrol, Kensington Mine, or whoever needs it.

In Juneau, rescuers look for two kinds of signals: an avalanche beacon, also called a transceiver (which allows for companion rescue, and which rescuers agree is most important) and a Recco reflector, which is sewn into a large amount of outdoor wear prior to purchase. Juneau City and Borough Emergency Coordinator Tom Mattice said the city has distributed reflectors to people who live out Thane Road and drive back and forth along the avalanche-prone route.

Right now rescuers scan for both kinds of signals from the ground.

The long-range receiver hangs from the side of a helicopter and allows rescuers to search for beacon signals from the air.

“A helicopter search allows people to search a wider area,” Ed Shanley, an avalanche field technician at AEL&P, said. “What the helicopter can do in an hour might take a few days on foot.”

When a person reported missing in a backcountry area is wearing a beacon, the long-range receiver will enable Search and Rescue to cover more avalanche paths, Shanley said.

Helicopter searches will also help when more than one person has been buried in the same avalanche, as they allow for much faster searching, Manuel Genswein said. Genswein is a Swiss avalanche expert AEL&P brought to Juneau to train rescuers.

The Southeast Alaska Avalanche Center also purchased a helicopter setup that will allow rescuers to better search for Recco reflectors, said Mattice, who’s also the center’s director. Rescuers already have Recco receivers, but the hookup feeds the signal into the helicopter’s audio and allows them to search by air. Genswein also trained rescuers in Recco searching.

Coastal Helicopters donated half the helicopter time used in the training.

“The investment was inexpensive for the possible benefit of the ability to do better on response,” Mattice said.

Juneau Mountain Rescue member Karl Bausler said the Recco hookup would have come in handy in several cases he could think of. In one, about 20 years ago, a weatherman slid 1,500 feet near Dan Moller. Rescuers spent a full day looking for him. That could have been shortened substantially, he said.

“The more modes of detection, the more probable it is,” Bausler said that a person would be found.

Mattice and others emphasized, however, that the most important thing is to wear a transceiver, be trained in avalanche rescue and to always travel with a partner. When someone is caught in an avalanche, adhering to those recommendations will still make the largest difference between life and death.

“Recco always means organized rescue,” Genswein said. “After 15 minutes, still about 90 percent of people are alive. At 35 minutes, only 30 percent of people are alive … The primary safety equipment is always the transceiver.”

More in Life

A girl dressed as Snow White takes candy from a witch at the Orca Theater’s Trunk or Treat in Soldotna, Alaska on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
October packed with Halloween events

October brings with it fall festivities, trick-or-treating opportunities and other seasonal celebrations

Minister’s Message: The right side of fairness

In God’s kingdom, the point isn’t that those who have get more, but that those who don’t have get enough

A copy of “Two Old Women” is held inside the Peninsula Clarion offices on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ahlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: Athabascan legend enchants, informs

The two women, shocked that they’ve been left behind by their family and friends, resolve that they will not resign themselves to death

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Passing the time

There are lots of different ways to measure the passage of time

Shredded chicken and vegetables are topped with a butter crust in this classic chicken pot pie. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
A meal for when you need a hug

This classic chicken pot pie is mild and comforting

Kenneth Branagh portrays Hercule Poirot in “A Haunting in Venice.” (Photo courtesy 20th Century Studios)
On the Screen: Murder most haunting

Hercule Poirot takes on supernatural in latest Agatha Christie adaptation

Jack Meyers, Jackson Hooper, Kincaid Jenness, Kry Spurgeon, Leora McCaughey and Oshie Broussard rehearse “Lockers” at Nikiski Middle/High School in Nikiski, Alaska, on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
High school drama

Teenage archetypes hit the stage in Triumvirate production “Lockers”

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Get Ready

It looks as though some early deep freeze history may be about to repeat itself

Most Read