According to an article by 9News of Denver on Monday January 11th, Flight for Life of Colorado (FFL) and Loveland Ski Area’s High Alpine Search and Rescue (SAR) team did an avalanche rescue drill. This scenario ran just like many of the other drills that FFL and Search and Rescue practice regularly, except they added a new tool to the arsenal. A new high-powered beacon hanging from the helicopter.

This beacon, new to Colorado, is a high-powered transceiver that hangs from the helicopter and is used to sweep over areas to catch a signal from the buried victim’s personal beacon. The helicopter beacon can detect any avalanche transceiver on the market. The beacon can also detect Garmin InReach emergency signals. It does have some limitations, if the weather is bad, the helicopter will not be able to fly and therefore cannot be used. Nor does it pick up Recco reflector chips.

“It can really pinpoint it down to about a 10-foot circle.We can get to remote locations and get on scene quicker. And we can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time.” -Chad Miller, lead flight paramedic with Flight for Life Colorado

Unlike other tools for avalanche rescue like personal beacons, avalanche dogs and Recco devices, this new tool can quickly sweep large areas from the air and give the ground rescuers a better idea of where the victims are located. This new tool used in conjunction with ground crews is going to improve efficiency in avalanche rescue situations where time is of the essence.

“Time is the enemy to a fully buried avalanche victim. After about 15 minutes, nine out of 10 victims survive. That’s pretty encouraging, but by 30 minutes, it drops to one in two.” -Dale Atkins of the High Alpine Rescue Team 

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), Colorado typically accounts for the most avalanche related deaths than any other state. The dangerous continental snowpack paired with a large population with easy access to the mountains, creates a dangerous avalanche formula. That is why FFL and local SAR teams practice these rescue drills regularly. The FFL Frisco helicopter will now permanently carry one of these new beacons to improve efficiency and hopefully save lives.

With all that being said remember that this beacon is used in the WORST CASE SCENARIO. The best tool that anyone has is prevention. If you don’t get caught in avalanche, there is no need to rescue.

When planning a backcountry excursion REMEMBER THE BASICS

  1. Know before you go, check your local avalanche forecast such as the CAIC
  2. Bring proper equipment (I.E. Beacon, Shovel, Probe and Competent Partners)
  3. Know how to use your equipment, the best chance of avalanche rescue is companion rescue
  4. Plan your route and watch out for signs of instability, don’t be afraid to change it (or bail) if you see any signs of instability



Images from Denver 9 News 

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