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Avalanches, Part 4: Rescue Checklist

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This article is part of our series: Avalanche Awareness

two skiers overlooking a snowy landscape

If members of a group become caught in an avalanche, their survival depends on you rescuing them as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence.

The following checklist can help you organize the rescue effort:

  1. Determine who is missing from your group. This will ensure that you do not leave anybody unaccounted for and you have every able person actively searching.
  2. If possible, call 911 to initiate a search and rescue mission while the rest of the group prepares to start searching.
  3. Assess whether additional avalanches could occur. These could come from different parts of a bowl or release zones. Do not move out into the avalanche path if another seems likely. Go only when safe. Reassess conditions continually.
  4. Turn all avalanche transceivers to “receive” mode. Critical time can be wasted if a searcher’s transceiver is leading everyone else away from the victim’s transceiver.
  5. Determine where the avalanche victim or their gear was last seen. If the victim was able to keep an arm or leg above the surface, immediately start digging to clear their airway. If there are only surface clues, such as clothing or gear, search those areas first with your transceivers. Leave the clues in place and move on if unsuccessful.
  6. Focus your transceiver search on likely areas such as below the place where the missing person was last seen. Areas around rocks and trees should also be searched as potential catchment zones.
  7. If the transceiver search indicates a potential “hit,” pinpoint the signal and then use the avalanche probe to confirm the victim’s location. Leave the probe in place. Dig aggressively down the slope from the probe; keep the hole wide so that when the victim is exposed, it will be easier to get to the airway and perform an evacuation.
  8. Extricate the victim from the snow to a safe area and provide insulation to prevent or treat hypothermia. Neck, head and spine injuries should be suspected so move the victim with extreme care.
  9. Turn all transceivers back to “transmit” mode and prepare to wait for the arrival of search and rescue resources.

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