Here is a survival story I heard about, but didn't realize he was a local, got the e-mail this morning and had to share.
I'm sure quite a few of you heard about the accident I was involved in on February 4th. To sum it up, a cornice gave way underneath me as I was snowmobiling and I fell approximately 265 ft. I broke my leg and destroyed my knee in the process and ended up spending the night at the bottom of the cliff.
I finally got dial up internet access in my hospital room so I thought I would take the time to tell my story. You would think that the University of Alberta hospital would have plenty of phone lines or maybe even high speed internet but apparently not. I was 9th on the waiting list to get a private phone line in my room, and it took 9 days to get it hooked up. (Since I started writing this I've been transferred to the Slave Lake hospital and I have internet access there as well.) I've got a lot of time on my hands now so telling my story will help me pass the time.
The morning of Saturday, Feb. 4th, I headed out with 9 other snowmobilers to a riding area near Mcbride, BC. We spent a few of hours breaking trail up to the alpine and playing in a few areas on our way up.
After we had been up in the alpine for a little while the sun came out and the conditions were pretty much perfect... deep snow, blue sky, no tracks and few riders.
I pointed my sled up a large open ridge, wanting to see what was over the top. As I neared the top I realized that there was a sharp drop off on the other side. I turned to the left to ride parallel to the ridge with about 6 to 8 feet between the right side of my sled and the edge of the cornice. At that instant the cornice broke away underneath my sled and I fell. I immediately thought the cornice breaking would cause a huge avalanche and that I would be buried. I could feel myself smashing off of rocks and I had no idea how far I was falling. I really thought I was going to die, either due to avalanche or due to hitting rocks. I came to rest about 265 feet below the spot where the cornice broke. I was conscious the whole time. I knew right away that I had broken bones in my left leg. After a little while I could here my buddies yelling down to me but they had no way of getting down to me. I could see my snowmobile and my helmet further down the slope.
Thankfully I had a big back pack on and had quite a bit of survival gear with me. My helmet had come off in the tumble but I had a touque and a neck warmer. I also had extra layers of fleece clothing and extra gloves and mitts. I had one extra bottle of water and a package of beef jerky as well.
The thing that really made the difference in my survival though was the tarp I had in my back pack. It wasn't really cold out that night, I would guess maybe -5C to -8C at the coldest point, but there was a gusty wind and blowing snow and the tarp really kept the weather off me. I was on about a 30 degree slope with another bigger cliff below me (although I didn't know it at the time) so I dug a shallow hole to keep me from sliding down the slope. I wrapped my self up in the tarp and settled in.
From time to time I could here my buddies yelling down from the top to check on me. They told me they had sent someone for help and that a helicopter should be on the way. At one point I heard a helicopter and thought I was about to be rescued but it turned around and went away. Eventually it got dark and cloudy enough that I realized I was going to be spending the night out on the side of the mountain.
My buddies had also realized that there was nothing else they could do for me so they headed down the mountain. Later in the evening I could here sleds again as the Mcbride Search and Rescue showed up but they were also unable to do anything for me. So I listened to the sounds of their sleds disappear and settled in for a long night.
I didn't know if I had any internal injuries or not so I realized that there was a possibility that I might not make it through the night. As the hours passed though, I felt like my chances of survival were getting better. I spent a lot of time praying and a lot of time thinking about my wife and kids. I knew that one of my buddies or one of the RCMP would have called my wife and told her that I was spending the night with a broken leg at the bottom of a cliff and I felt pretty terrible about that. I didn't sleep at all.
Eventually it started to get light... now my concern was the weather. From my perspective it was pretty socked in and I didn't think a helicopter would be able to fly. So I wasn't sure if Search and Rescue was going to be attempting to rescue me over land or by air.
As the morning progressed I began the see patches of blue sky, which got my hopes up. And then around 10:30 AM I first heard, then saw the big yellow and white Search and Rescue helicopter come flying around the mountain. I've got to say that has been one of the happiest moments of my life!
The helicopter couldn't land where I was at, so they landed on a saddle about 1/2 a mile away. They rigged a cable underneath the chopper and dropped a man and some safety gear at my location. I was very happy to see him. He put my leg in a sling and put me in a "screamer suit" which I soon figured out how it got it's name. They slung me out underneath the helicopter to the saddle where the chopper had originally landed and put me on some kind of special stretcher and flew me out to Mcbride. The helicopter crew were Search and Rescue from Jasper National park and are specifically trained in mountain rescue. They typically rescue climbers. They are a top notch bunch of guys and I thank them for rescuing me. I ended up spending between 18 and 20 hours on the mountain with broken bones before being rescued.
I ended up in the Mcbride hospital and they wanted to send me to Prince George for surgery but I was able to talk them into sending me to Edmonton instead. My left knee was destroyed, totally dislocated and most of the ligaments wrecked. My lower left leg also has a nasty fracture around the ankle with damage done to the ankle joint. I went through lots of MRI's, CAT scans and X-rays. On Feb. 7 they did surgery to install pins and external fixaters (metal rods) to secure my left leg from my heel to my hip. I spent about a week in the external fixaters while waiting for the swelling to go down so they could perform further surgery. Then on Monday, Feb. 13 they figured the swelling had gone down enough that they could do the major surgery. They secured my fractured ankle and lower leg using plates and pins and did major reconstructive surgery on my left knee creating new attaching points for ligaments and installing new ligaments using donor tissue.
I haven't left the hospital yet since the accident but I am recovering well. All of my surgeries are done (unless further complications come up) and they have disconnected all the tubes from me (IV, catheter, oxygen) so I am getting back to normal. I still can't put any weight on my left leg, but I have been working with the physiotherapists to get around using my good leg and a walker or crutches. I was transferred to the Slave Lake hospital on Sunday, Feb. 19.
A lot of people have said how lucky I am, but I think there is more to it than that. I think God was and still is in control of the situation, and he obviously has a reason for keeping me around. I am so thankful to be alive and that I am not paralyzed or mentally injured. I'm so thankful that I'll get see my kids grow up and spend some more time with my wife. She has been a great support, I know it's been difficult for her but she is a brave, hard working, loving woman and I am so thankful to have her in my life.
My snowmobile is still sitting at the bottom of the cliff and the insurance company is kind of stumped on how to proceed. They say they have never seen a situation like this before. I figure writing me a cheque would be a good place to start.
I've attached a couple of pictures of the accident site. In the first one you can see my sled tracks disappear over the broken cornice. My buddies estimate that a slab of snow 15' by 150' broke away underneath the weight of my sled. The second picture is looking down from the top of the cliff, I've labeled the location of the spot where I spent the night and where my sled and helmet ended up. You can see that it really is a miracle that I'm alive.
That's pretty much all there is to tell... I don't know how long I'll be off work for at this point but I'll be back as soon as I can.
Hope to see you soon,