An avalanche Sunday afternoon in the Smiley Creek area north of Ketchum has claimed the life of a 64-year-old Bellevue man.
The Blaine County Sheriff’s Office on Monday identified the victim as George Gilbert Martin Jr. His wife, 70-year-old Lesley Dianne Martin, was also buried in the avalanche but was rescued and transported to St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center where she was treated for hypothermia. Hospital spokeswoman Jenny King said Lesley Martin was released from St. Luke’s on Monday.
An Oregon couple, who were snowmobiling with the Martins, were also buried in the avalanche but were able to extricate themselves before calling for emergency assistance.
The Sheriff’s Office reported in a news release that the Blaine County Emergency Communications Center was notified of the avalanche in the Frenchman’s Creek area south of Smiley Creek at 3:16 p.m. on Sunday.
According to the Sheriff’s Office investigation, the avalanche broke at about 2:05 p.m. from the top of a ridge and ran down the hill and across a meadow where the four people were riding snowmobiles. All four were buried. The sheriff’s office reported also that all four were wearing avalanche beacons.
Sheriff Gene Ramsey said that it took about 45 minutes, but Robert C. Swanton, 65, and Susan A. Swanton, 56, both of Sutherlin, Ore., were able to release themselves from the snow and then began searching for the Martins.
George Martin was recovered first, but the Sheriff’s Office reported that the Swantons were unable to locate a beacon signal from Lesley Martin.
“The use of avalanche beacons was a critical tool locating the victims involved in this avalanche.”
The Swantons then rode a snowmobile that had been unburied about two and a half miles to state Highway 75 where they flagged down assistance. Three other snowmobilers, summoned by the Swantons, were then able to locate Lesley Martin and extricate her from the snow. She was transported in stable condition to the hospital by Ketchum Fire Department ambulance.
The Sheriff’s Office reported that CPR was performed on George Martin but rescuers were not able to revive him. He was pronounced dead at the scene and his body was recovered by Blaine County Search and Rescue and released to Blaine County Coroner Russell Mikel.
The Sheriff’s Office reported that George Martin was buried for approximately an hour, while his wife was buried for about 90 minutes. Her recovery may have not been possible without the avalanche beacon.
“The use of avalanche beacons was a critical tool locating the victims involved in this avalanche,” Ramsey said. “We continue to stress that the backcountry is extremely unstable and we strongly encourage people to wear beacons and be properly equipped if they are not going to stay out of avalanche areas.”
The Sheriff’s Office reported that the avalanche was triggered when one of the “victims stepped through the new snow slab and penetrated the old faceted layer of snow. This caused a large collapse that propagated uphill and released the avalanche 9,000 feet in elevation in the upmost part of the path.”
The avalanche ran about 1,400 vertical feet, piling 4 to 8 feet of debris across a 300-400 foot area. The Sawtooth Avalanche Center categorized the avalanche as a size 3D, which by definition can bury and destroy a car, damage a truck, destroy a wood frame house and break trees.
In addition to the above-mentioned agencies, Sun Valley Fire Department also assisted with the rescue.