By MATT FURBER
Express Staff Writer
A New Year’s Day blizzard catapulted an
avalanche into a cabin at the base of Soldier Mountain that took the lives of a
Seattle couple early Friday morning. Five other family members escaped alive
from the mangled cabin north of Fairfield.
A Seattle couple was killed Friday,
Jan. 2, after a 200-foot avalanche slammed their cabin abutting Soldier
Mountain near Fairfield. Amy
Soldier Mountain Search and Rescue members
recovered the bodies of the dean of the University of Washington’s graduate
school and her husband Friday after family members were unable to dig out the
Marsha Landolt, 55, and Robert A. Busch,
58, were killed in the avalanche, which occurred between 1 and 2 a.m. Friday,
the Camas County Sheriff’s Office reported.
"I didn’t realize that they were such
prominent people in the Seattle area," said Larry Davenport, manager of the
Soldier Mountain Ski Area, who together with his son Kyle assisted with the
rescue and recovery using a snow cat used for backcountry skiing. "I went back
that afternoon and saw the size of the debris field. I didn’t realize how badly
the house had gotten torn up in the dark. Parts of the house got moved 50 yards
down to the creek."
Davenport said the French doors on the
west side bedroom, where the couple was buried, were pushed aside by the slide
and snow packed the room like concrete.
The death of Landolt and Busch brought
national media attention to the small city over the weekend.
"The media descended on us," Davenport
said. "I got a call (Friday) evening for a live interview."
A crushing 15 feet of snow hammered
into the cabin at about 1:30 a.m., Friday, Jan.2 Windows and
doors were smashed and parts of the cabin were pushed another 50 feet by the
slide. Also trapped were five other family members and their two dogs, all of
whom survived with the help of search and rescue volunteers.
Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center
Setting up cameras at 2:30 a.m. Cambell
Brown, co-anchor of NBC’s The Today Show, interviewed Davenport for the Saturday
program. On Sunday, Good Morning America interviewed Sheriff Sanders, and on
Monday, a press conference was held in Boise for the survivors. They include
Nicholas Kocan, Landolt’s son; Jenna Rovig, Busch’s daughter; Rovig’s husband,
Kelby, and their children Tucker, 5, and Emma, 1.
Kocan and Kelby Rovig dug through the
packed snow for an hour and a half--managing to rescue Kocan’s black lab,
Shadow--but ultimately had to go for help to recover Landolt and Busch.
"The call came in at 3 a.m. It didn’t take
very long for everybody to get going," said Shelly Marolf, who works part time
as a dispatcher for the Camas County Sheriff’s office, and is a search and
rescue volunteer. "It took three hours to respond and recover the bodies. We
cleared from the house at 6:10 a.m."
Slide wind loaded
The avalanche occurred when snow along the
ridge above the cabin released, said Janet Kellam, director of the Sawtooth
National Forest Avalanche Center after finishing an avalanche report on the
event with Doug Abromeit, director of the Forest Service National Avalanche
Center. "Nationally avalanche centers coordinate and keep track of patterns and
help educate the public about the hazards ... It was an unusual event to slide
as big as it did into that house, but (the type of slide) was not
Kellam said the start zone above the
39-degree slope was wind loaded and that the weather with light snow present
before the last storm arrived created a perfect recipe for avalanches. "It was
steep enough to allow the snow to build up and slide under stress," she said.
"It is the most common angle for a slab avalanche to occur."
The steepest pitch on Inhibition, one of
the steepest runs at the Sun Valley ski resort is 38 degrees, she said.
Cabin 26 years old
"It’s been a busy few days I can tell you
that," Davenport said. "The house had been there 26 years. It’s just tragic what
"There were about 20 to 25 people helping
with the rescue," Marolf said.
The debris field at the base of the
avalanche was nearly 200 yards wide, and between 10 and 15 feet deep.
During the recovery effort, search and
rescue evacuated a second house because of the avalanche hazard. A minor slide
did come down near that building.
Several hours after the recovery,
emergency workers heard barking coming from beneath the snow inside the cabin’s
living room, Davenport said.
Another family dog, Odie, had apparently
been pushed through a glass screen into the fireplace, where he was able to get
air through the chimney.
"We were able to get him out. He was
scratched up and scared but otherwise OK," Keith Davenport said.
Busch’s son-in-law, Archie Wright, said
the family was grieving the unexpected deaths.
He said his family in Boise had been
planning to join the group at Soldier Mountain for New Year’s Eve but bad
weather kept them away.
Demaray Funeral Service from Gooding had
to detour through Shoshone to recover the bodies because roads were closed,
The ski resort was also closed for the
day, Davenport said, partly because of the risk of additional avalanches and
partly because resort workers needed time to groom the trails.
Landolt had been dean and a vice provost
of the Seattle university since 1996, university spokesman Bob Roseth said.
She was previously director of the
university’s School of Fisheries and wrote more than 70 scientific papers on
University of Washington President Lee
Huntsman said the deaths were "a terrible loss. Our hearts go out to Marsha’s
and Bob’s families. Marsha spent her whole career here, was a brilliant
scientist, and a forceful and effective advocate for graduate education both
here at the University and at the national level. The University is in mourning
on this very sad day."
28 snowmobilers stranded
Less than an hour after completing the
cabin rescue, search and rescue volunteers headed out on a second call Friday to
help 28 snowmobilers stuck about 12 miles north of Fairfield over Couch Summit
past Trappers Inn, Marolf said.
The travelers between the ages of 5 and 70
had gotten stuck after spending New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in backcountry
cabins. Search and rescue drove a snowcat out to groom a path for the stranded
travelers after getting a call from a cabin owner who had a satellite phone.
"They went out to celebrate New Years and
ended up getting stuck out there longer than they expected," Marolf said.
The Associated Press contributed to