Rescuers on Sunday recovered the bodies of two missing backcountry skiers at Grand Teton National Park, digging through 13 feet of snow to reach them.
The rangers were led to the skiers' location Saturday evening when they picked up two signals from avalanche beacons the missing skiers -- Walker Pannell Kuhl and Gregory Seftick -- were wearing.
Due to the late hour Saturday, along with the need to remove all search teams from the Teton canyon and cease helicopter operations before day’s end—a handful of rescuers was not able to dig deep enough to locate the source of the signals.
Early Sunday morning, a core group of park rangers flew back into Garnet Canyon to resume digging. After two hours, they reached the bodies of Mr. Kuhl, 27, of Salt Lake City, and Mr. Seftick, 31, of Colubmia Falls, Montana, buried under 13 feet of snow near a large boulder in the avalanche path, park officials said Sunday.
More than three-dozen rescue personnel and four canine teams had searched the large avalanche field in Garnet Canyon for more than ten hours on Saturday. According to park officials, at 7 p.m. with just two teams left to airlift from the canyon, Ranger Nick Armitage made one final sweep with his avalanche transceiver over an area that had been probed by rescuers earlier in the day.
After Ranger Armitage picked up first one beacon signal, and then another, five additional rescuers joined in digging through the dense snowpack to reach the source, park officials said. Although five feet of snow was cleared away, rescuers were not able to reach the beacon before the last helicopter flight needed to be made.
Upon removing the snow, however, rescuers also made a positive probe hit. Park officials noted that avalanche probe poles are generally 10 feet long and the beacon was deeper than their initial reach.
On Sunday morning, helicopter pilot Nicole Ludwig—flying a Teton County Search and Rescue contract helicopter out of Hillsboro, Oregon—airlifted six park rangers back into the Garnet Canyon Meadows to resume digging toward the two beacons. Rangers continued to excavate through another ten feet of snow before they reached the skiers' bodies, park officials said.
Rangers then prepared them for a helicopter flight to the valley floor, where a Teton County
coroner met the ship.
Park officials say it appears that the two men were buried by a large avalanche that shed off the north face of Nez Perce Peak sometime Saturday night, April 16, while they were in their tent, located near a large boulder between the Platforms and the Meadows of Garnet Canyon. The two had carried avalanche beacons and other appropriate gear with them on their trek into the Teton Range, and their beacons were transmitting when the avalanche enveloped their campsite.
The concentrated search for Mr. Kuhl and Mr. Seftick lasted six days, due in part to stormy weather, new snowfall and ongoing concerns about avalanche danger for rescue teams.
Search operations involved park rangers and staff, as well as numerous Jackson Hole community rescue personnel. Grand Teton National Park officials expressed their appreciation for the cooperation and dedication of the organizations and companies who assisted during the past several days. Those groups include trained rescue personnel, volunteers and support staff from Teton County Search and Rescue, Teton Interagency Fire personnel, Bridger-Teton National Forest and Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center staff, a Yellowstone National Park employee, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort ski patrol, Wyoming K9 Search and Rescue teams, and Grand Targhee Resort ski patrol and canine teams, as well as experienced professional mountaineers from Jackson Hole Mountain Guides and Exum Mountain Guides.
The Seftick and Kuhl families extended their heartfelt thanks to all rescuers for their work in helping to locate their sons and brothers.