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Thread: Backcountry snowmachining: Crash! Man Down! What do you do?

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    Member JOAT's Avatar
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    Exclamation Backcountry snowmachining: Crash! Man Down! What do you do?

    Prompted by the hunting "what if" thread...

    You and your riding buddy are exploring some new territory in remote Alaska. It's Sunday afternoon and you've been riding hard in a couple feet of fresh powdery snow all day long. It's around 10F with scattered clouds and a dark grey line of clouds is rapidly approaching from the SE. The sun is minutes from setting and you're 25 miles from the truck, which is parked on a public access road a mile off the closest highway. You have all the gear that YOU would normally carry on a recreational day trip into the backcountry. You're expected back tonight, but you guys have a history of stopping off at a roadhouse for dinner on your way home, so you won't be late until... late. You've set your sights on getting back to the truck, by taking a more direct route (according to the GPSr map) than that which you took to get here. Again, this is unfamiliary territory.

    A couple minutes later, your buddy, who was leading the way, disappears. As you come up to the spot, you find that he's plunged into a narrow ravine that was hidden by drifting snow. His snowmachine is nose down in the bottom, 20 feet below you. There are exposed rocks on the opposite face of the ravine. He is crumpled over the hood and his helmet is broken. You see lots of blood in the snow in front of his face. He is moving his arms slowly as if trying to get up, but appears unable to. When you shut your machine off, you can hear him groaning loudly.

    Take it from there boys...
    Winter is Coming...

    Go GeocacheAlaska!

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    Thank God for sat phones! A fast call into S & R and start finding some wood for a fire, then listen for the hellicopter.

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    Member EagleRiverDee's Avatar
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    Well- the clouds coming in could make a quick S&R impossible if visibility gets too poor for a helo.

    My first action would be to see what it is going to take to get down to my partner. Do I need to tie a rope to my sled and use a rope to assist me down? Can I just walk down? How steep is the slope? Once I get there, I'm going to check my partner for the seriousness of the injury. Was he merely stunned and has a cut (head wounds bleed profusely at first) or does he have a concussion/broken bones/injured neck or back/ etc. Is he breathing okay?

    If my partner appears seriously injured I'll treat life threatening stuff first, then I'm going to turn on my McMurdo FastFind and hope that a helo can make it in. If he's not badly injured, we're going to see about getting the sled out of the ravine (admittedly a daunting task with only two people, and I'm a woman so not as strong as the average man). If that's impossible, we'll see about riding out on my sled and come back later for his, taking the time to salvage whatever emergency gear he might have on his sled.

    Let's assume his injuries are severe enough to require us to make camp and wait for rescue- I'm going to check airway, breathing, cardio first. Then looking for broken bones, concussion, neck or spinal injury. I'll treat anything life threatening ASAP to the best of my ability. My medical supplies while snowmobiling are admittedly spartan- I carry a SAM splint, duct tape, maxi-pads (for bleeding wounds) and Quikclot (for major bleeds) so basically I can treat bleeds and breaks but I'm don't carry a big kit when snowmobiling because I don't have the room. I need to know- Can he make it up to the top of the ravine in his current condition? This is important because a ravine is going to be a heat-sink and therefore colder than up above, and it's also going to be harder for rescuers to spot us down in the ravine if that's where we have to stay.

    Hopefully my partner can make it up top, but either way once I activate my McMurdo I'm going to start working on shelter, fire and signalling. First thing I'll do is turn my strobe light on and leave it up top by my sled, in a location where it's beam won't be blocked. I also carry other types of signals including chemlites, whistle, bright colored clothing (for flagging), flash light, mirrors...but the strobe should work for a while and is visible in both daylight and dark. Then I'll make my partner as comfortable as I can, perhaps have him laying on a bed of spruce boughs or our snowmobile seats to get him off the ground, legs elevated, with a space blanket loosely wrapped around him, chemical heating pads tucked into his groin and armpits to keep him warm, checking him occasionally for shock. Then I'll get cracking on digging in for shelter. You don't say how deep the snow is, so if I can I'll dig a snow cave, if not I'll dig down for a wind block and use the plastic sheet out of my emergency kit for a roof. Get my partner moved into the shelter - again, off the ground, legs elevated, treating his injuries and shock to the best of my ability.

    Assuming we're in an area that has trees, I'll be scouting for dry wood, ideally dry dead spruce boughs, to start a fire, and then be scouting for some live wood to keep it going. I carry 5 ways to start a fire, including my last-ditch resort of a road flare. However, if there is no wood around then I do keep a can of sterno and a candle in my pack and would get one of those going. I also keep a stainless cup in my pack - i'd be warming some water and get my friend to drink some warm water to keep his core temp up. If I had a hard candy or something I'd have him suck on that or put it in the water because sugar water can combat shock.

    I carry basic survival gear so we ought to be okay for an overnighter if necessary, but survival is going to depend a lot on how bad the condition of my partner's injuries are and whether or not rescue can make it to us quickly.
    "If snowmachiners would adopt the habits of riding one at a time and not parking at the base of avalanche prone slopes, the number of fatalities would likely be whittled by at least a third, if not by half." ~ Jill Fredston, in the book Snowstruck, In The Grip Of Avalanches.

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    Quote Originally Posted by roamak View Post
    Thank God for sat phones! A fast call into S & R and start finding some wood for a fire, then listen for the hellicopter.
    Good answer. The right answer, too. I have one friend who's still alive because of communication and the ANG Pavehawk medical crew that picked him up and stabilized him. Calling a helo is a serious action but sometimes it's necessary. Anything less is just an unplanned camping trip. Done that a few times, too.

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    Member Dupont Spinner's Avatar
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    Indeed get help rolling ASAP!!!! You are not getting him out on your own and your partner is going to be of little help. Remember broken helmet.

    DO NOT REMOVE THE HELMET!!!!! Unless REQUIRED!!!!

    The bad news to start is going to be the broken helmet. You are most likely going to have to deal with a neck injury, a head injury, some deep facial lacerations, a chest injury, along with the possiblity of hips, legs, arms and back injuries.

    Get him to stay still....figure out how to get down the ravine to him with all your gear and have a way to get yourself out, you may need to satabilze him and ride out to help or use your communication source.

    Now that you are there take a deep breathe, assess his injuries. As you run through your ABC's (Airway, Breathing, Circulation)to start. Then must satibilze neck and back as required. At the same time you want to work the bleeding with direct pressure. Finally splint any broken limbs or at least secure them.

    Once patient priorities are accomplished to the best as you can do, work on a shelter and a fire. With any accident shock can follow. The fire will provide heat and will be a beacon for rescuers.

    Now if patient is ambulatory getting him out of the ravine is going to take some rigging, go slow and go smart. Even if he says his neck is ok use some type of support. Ride out slow and do not jar the patient. Once at the road if no amublance support get him to immediate care yourself letting 911 know what's up.

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    Originally Posted by roamak
    Thank God for sat phones! A fast call into S & R and start finding some wood for a fire, then listen for the hellicopter.

    "Good answer. The right answer, too. I have one friend who's still alive because of communication and the ANG Pavehawk medical crew that picked him up and stabilized him. Calling a helo is a serious action but sometimes it's necessary. Anything less is just an unplanned camping trip. Done that a few times, too."

    Yes, I too know of a couple people who are alive and doing well due to a fast phone call and some good S & R pilots. I have had my share of bad days by myself and while trapping with another partner. I have never had to make that call personally but I would not hesitate to do it and I travel with a sat phone while flying, boating, trapping, or even moose hunting. Most places I am 100 miles from the nearest village let alone a health clinic, and one man or woman alone is not going to get that guy out of there with a cracked helmet with his head bleeding and expect him or her to live. Sorry its just not happening. You need help and you need it right now. If the weather is setting in you better make that call now and not wait another second, and get a fire going with what ever you have.

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    Member JOAT's Avatar
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    Good responses. I made the scenario vague enough to avoid a pre-disposition toward a "right" answer. It is intended only to provoke thought. I've personally been in a couple situations that prompted the setup. Unfamiliar region above treeline, sun had just set and we were tired from a long day of riding and took a straight out course. I saw my buddy's brake lights for a fraction of a second before they disappeared over an unseen cliff-like edge of a stream cut ravine. Fortunately, it was only about 10 feet to the bottom and he didn't hit the opposite bank, but I've seen many other small ravines that could have presented the above scenario if hit in the same manner. The Two-Stroke Cold Smoke guys did a "Crash! Man Down!" video many years ago that showed a couple very serious crashes due to short jump impacts with the "other side" of something. Fortunately for those guys, there were a lot of people present and they had the manpower to get the injured riders out.

    So, when I look back at the lack of gear taken on many of the impromptu "quick day rides" of my past (including the night of the cliff dive), I have to wonder how we would have dealt with that. Of course in those days we had no SPOT or sat phone options and often just jumped on the 440 and took off without much thought about it. I bet a quarter of the time we ended up towing one machine 10 to 20 miles back out, so at least we always had a tow rope and some basic tools in the trunk. But medical emergencies were never given too much thought.

    It's good to think about a very serious scenario where your buddy has a life or death medical emergency and you are the only person who can change the outcome. Do you have the gear and skills you need?
    Winter is Coming...

    Go GeocacheAlaska!

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