Two recent snowstorms have helped to create ripe conditions for deadly avalanches out west. One skier recalls being swept up by a wave of powder and his fear that he would "suffocate to death under the snow." NBC's Joe Fryer reports
A skier and snowmobile driver both died Thursday in separate avalanches just 20 miles apart near the Wyoming-Idaho border, officials said Saturday.
Skier Mike Kazanjy, 29, was skiing on a slope known as Pucker Face in Wyoming with five others when he triggered an avalanche, Mike Rheam, avalanche forecaster with the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center, told NBC News.
Kazanjy was the first to go down the mountain at about 1 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET), Rheam said. He made about two or three turns before the avalanche was triggered, burying him under the snow.
Kazanjy's body was located with an avalanche transceiver, which helped parties nearby to quickly dig him out, Rheam said. Kazanjy was buried under the snow for an estimated 12 to 13 minutes before he was found.
Two hours later and 20 miles away, snowmobile driver Rex J. Anderson, 39, of Arco, Idaho, was buried under snow for 10 minutes after he was caught in an avalanche near Waterfall Canyon in Idaho at 3 p.m., Sgt. Jeff Edwards, spokesman for the Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office in Idaho Falls, told NBC News.
Edwards said Anderson tried to beat the avalanche by racing it down the mountain in his snowmobile, but was "overcome and buried."
Anderson was the only person in a group of eight who was caught in the avalanche, Rheam said. Individuals nearby located him with an avalanche transmitter. They dug him out of the snow and attempted to administer CPR, but he was unresponsive.
"They couldn't get him revived," Rheam said.
A rescue helicopter was dispatched from Idaho Falls and arrived at the scene 37 minutes after the emergency call, Edwards said.
When Anderson was taken to a nearby hospital, an officer reported back to Edwards that the victim also appeared to have suffered trauma to his neck.
Rheam said that on Thursday the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center's avalanche advisory was categorized as moderate, which doesn't mean conditions are particularly safe.
He said under moderate conditions natural avalanches are not expected, but human-triggered avalanches are, in fact, possible.
"It's still a dangerous rating," he said.
Kazanjy was a University of California, Berkeley graduate and former Bay Area resident, according to NBC affiliate KNTV.
Anderson leaves behind two young children and a wife who had bought him an airbag safety unit meant to inflate during avalanches, Edwards said. The airbag inflates protecting vital parts of the body, so the weight of the snow doesn't crush an individual's head or chest.
Anderson's wife told police that her husband always took that safety kit with him, but this time he didn't.