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Author Topic: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010  (Read 9680 times)
otter
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Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« on: 06/11/10, 01:40 PM »

Hi all. I was part of the avalanche incident below Kendall Peak on April 9th. (That was the first one. Another party was buried the next day in the vicinity.)
I am recovering from serious injuries and am finally writing about the incident. I'm trying to collect as much info for this as possible. I got some pictures that were posted on NWAC which were enlightening. I guess what I'm really after is a crown profile. No one I know was able to make it back up to take a look (they were all in the hospital visiting my sorry, intubated ass). So if anyone was in the area and able to take a look at the crown or has more picture, please let me know.
Any other information, history, etc. on the area would also be appreciated.
Any presumptuous, snide remakes are not welcome. If you want to criticize, PM me, I'll give you my phone number and you can do it in person once you know the whole story.

Also, I want to recognize the efforts of the King County Sheriff's SAR Team and the Bellevue Fire Dept. They saved my life.

Thanks,
Dan Otter
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alecapone
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #1 on: 06/11/10, 01:53 PM »

Sorry about your accident Dan. Glad to see you are able to type this today...

I have no info, but I hope you are doing well.
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scott
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #2 on: 06/11/10, 02:03 PM »

Man!  Glad to hear that you made it out alive and I'm looking forward to the write up.

Heal quickly and if you need any maps of the area or anything else just let me know (I've created avalanche maps for the NWAC in the past).

David
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Joedabaker
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #3 on: 06/11/10, 03:05 PM »

WOW OTTER!
That's a sobering story, even two months after the event.
Sorry to hear about your misfortune. Gives me more rationalization to feel grateful.
Sorry can't help you with the details of the crown, but I wish for you better luck in the future.
Here's to your return to the mountains!
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otter
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #4 on: 06/11/10, 04:09 PM »

Thanks for the good vibes guys.
but I wish for you better luck in the future.
I appreciate this Joedabaker and I take the sentiment to heart.
However, I just want to point emphasize that we messed up. Period. (I'll post a report soon, I promise) We made a lot of little mistakes, mistakes that many people in this forum probably make as well, mistakes we have made before, and maybe we get lucky all those other times. But luck, or lack there of, is not something we should be depending on to keep us safe in the backcountry. It's also an easy, cheap excuse. I, and our whole party, takes responsibility for our decisions and actions and recognize that is what got us into trouble.
I've had people say to me (and given, they are not all snow savvy, so maybe I'm preaching to the choir here) "Sounds like you just happened to be in the wrong spot. What bad luck." But I CHOSE to be in that spot at that moment.
Anyhow, sorry for the brief rant and I'm not trying to nitpick Joedabaker's positive wishes. I too hope I do have better luck in the future. I've been constantly analyzing and reanalyzing the incident (not accident, because accidents can't be avoided, right?) for two months now, so I have a lot to say about it and I want to use this as an opportunity for others to learn and maybe refelct on their own past actions in the BC.
More details soon, I promise.
Dan
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Marcus
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #5 on: 06/11/10, 04:21 PM »

That kind of insight is critical Dan -- I'm glad you're alive to share it.  Please do post a report here when you're ready.

It's possible that, if you got in touch with the NWAC folks or some of the King County Sheriff's folks, that you'd be able to get more info about the slide or the snow conditions in the area that week.
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Don Heath
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #6 on: 06/12/10, 08:23 AM »

Heal well, Dan! 

We were skiing at Alpental in and out of bounds that day. We heard the helicopters, and rumors were flying around the mountain.  The only input I have is:
a.   I remember we made the decision to ski the lifts because there was so much new powder - like 2 or 3 big dumps that week.  It was tempting to go B/C, but we didn't want to wade through that deep snow. 
b.  The B/C gates below upper International were open early, then closed around 1 or 2 I think.

I'm looking forward to your story,   It could have been us ...
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ron j
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #7 on: 06/12/10, 08:44 AM »

Nice to hear that you're on the mend.
It will be kind of you to share your insights in hopes that you might steer some of us away from a similar fate.
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"If a given person makes it a priority not to die in an avalanche, he or she stands a very good chance of living a long, happy life in the mountains." - Jill Fredston
Joedabaker
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #8 on: 06/12/10, 08:59 AM »

Don't beat yourself to hard Dan, Miscalculations of judgment happen all the time and we are grateful that you are here to share your experience.
I know from my experiences taking a few rides in the white room. I have kicked myself around for knowing better, and being to lax when all the signs were there. I was talking to a good ski friend who has never been in an avalanche and he has been skiing pretty active terrain for over 40 years. He rarely has any safety gear and always forgets to bring essentials on tours. Some of it is just flat out luck too.
What ever decisions were made to be at that place in time are done and gone.
The mental part of it is a challenge to overcome because it lingers. How do I still have fun while being out in such terrain? I tend to lean on the overcautious side now, so I have to kick it a bit to make sure I'm not over assessing something and taking the fun out of a good thing. Personally, I have to watch that I am not paralyzing myself with the what if's.  
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ski_photomatt
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #9 on: 06/12/10, 11:38 AM »

Hi Dan,

Thanks for posting about some of your experiences here.  When my party triggered a large avalanche in the Enchantments a few years ago posting about it on TAY generated some helpful responses that helped us process it.  Fortunately no one in our group was injured.

I skied on Kendall on April 10, the day after this avalanche and I dug a pit near the bottom of the slide (about where the second left to right switchback is in this photo here).  I didn't climb up to the crown.

It's been two months, I didn't take notes and my memory is a little foggy but here's what I remember.  There had been some wind the previous night from climbers right to left that had cross loaded the slope with a 3" of snow or so and hardened the surface.  Below that I remember getting several low quality medium strength results on compression tests (elbow or first couple shoulder hits) 12 or 18" down (? not certain on the depth).  I thought the snow was stable enough for skiing on April 10 and remember actively lobbying my group to ski some of the higher elevation slopes skiers left before the day warmed up and the sun moved over to heat the western facing slopes.  I was overruled and we ended up taking a few laps in the trees below.  Take this info for what it's worth as the snowpack probably changed significantly from April 9 to 10 in ways I don't want to speculate about.  In addition, the snow in the starting zone was probably different then lower down since those trees end at a col/ridge that gets actively wind loaded in storms.

Hope this helps.  Good luck with your recovery.

Matt Peters
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otter
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #10 on: 10/06/10, 05:35 PM »

October 26th 7-9pm
Feathered Friends

I will be presenting a case study about this incident as a pre-season safety warm up. Raffle prizes to raise funds for King County SAR, who gave me a free heli ride. Free refreshments.
Hope to see you there.

Dan
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Marcus
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #11 on: 10/06/10, 05:41 PM »

Thanks for the info Dan -- I'll try to be there.  I hope you'll consider making your case study available somewhere online after the show, so others can benefit from it.  You're welcome to post it here.
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Plinko
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #12 on: 10/07/10, 02:58 PM »

We were skiing at Alpental in and out of bounds that day. We heard the helicopters, and rumors were flying around the mountain.  The only input I have is:
a.   I remember we made the decision to ski the lifts because there was so much new powder - like 2 or 3 big dumps that week.  It was tempting to go B/C, but we didn't want to wade through that deep snow. 

b.  The B/C gates below upper International were open early, then closed around 1 or 2 I think.

Like Rusty, I too was lapping Alpental on that day.  Not a high traffic day, and fantastic deep snow conditions.  We were the first when the b/c gate opened, it was deep.  The first lap out triggered a small slide but ESE aspect.  Depth was around 18", 20-30 feet wide and ran for maybe 50-60 feet.  No one was caught up, but it was enough to grab our attention.  Most surprising was the relatively shallow slope angle.  There was a lot of that going on both inbounds and in the b/c keeping patrol busy.    It was no surprise when they closed it again after just an hour or so of being open.

Glad you made it out in one piece, and looking forward to your dissection on the 26th.

« Last Edit: 10/07/10, 03:02 PM by Plinko » Logged
Scottk
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #13 on: 10/11/10, 12:27 PM »

I'd like to point out that there's a NWAC fundraiser the same evening: http://www.nwac.us/calendar/
For what it's worth, I'd like to attend both.
Scott
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Plinko
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #14 on: 11/15/10, 11:10 PM »

Danny-O,

Now that the presentation has been made, would you be willing to share details here for those unable to attend?

Best wishes on your road to a full recovery.
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otter
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #15 on: 12/09/10, 06:36 AM »

Here is a narrative I wrote up (finally) about the incident on Kendall Peak April 9th, 2010.
To respect the privacy of those involved, please refrain from using names if you choose to comment, ask questions etc. I am Skier 1.
Please be respectful. Reading some of the discussions about the accident on this site while laid up in a nursing home, trying to piss into a bottle but unable to because of massive blot clots in my bladder was painful (because of presumptive comments, not the whole pissing issue). Before you post, make sure you are willing to say it to my face.
Thanks,
Dan Otter

Date: April 9, 2009
Location: West side of Kendall Peak, approximately 1.75 miles from Snoqualmie Pass.
Author: Dan Otter
Summary:  Two skiers from an experienced four-member group were caught in a soft slab avalanche triggered from above. Both skiers were wrapped around trees. One suffered minor injuries. One was critically injured and required helicopter evacuation.
Weather: The avalanche danger forecast for Friday, April 9th was “High” above 5,000 feet. The danger was downtrending, with an “Avalanche Warning” issued Thursday and forecasted danger decreasing to “Considerable” above 5,000 feet for Saturday. The region received 10-15 inches overnight, accompanied by shifting, downtrending NW-S winds. The storm came in warm and ended cool and calm. Visibility was limited in the morning by a clearing cloud deck around 5,000 feet. Radiation effects increased slightly as clouds cleared through the day.
NWAC Snowpack Analysis from Friday, 4/9/2010
“Another unseasonably strong cold front crossed the Northwest early Thursday morning, followed by strong westerly flow and moderate to heavy snowfall at cooling temperatures through early Friday. Generally 10 to 20 inches of snow accumulated with the frontal snowfall by early Thursday morning with an additional 10 to 15 inches by early Friday morning. This heavy snowfall along with strong and shifting winds has built increasingly deep and unstable storm slab layers on lee slopes, mainly northeast through southeast facing. This recent weather has also built rather large new cornices along ridges.
Some rain and initially warmer temperatures at mid and lower elevations has created a weak crust below the most recent snow.
Recent reports from control results yesterday at Alpental and Crystal Mountain indicated that soft slab avalanches were easily ski released and confined to the most recent new snow, generally 1 foot but some pockets to 2-3 feet. Large cornice control also released slabs on slopes below with pretty good propagation but also confined to most recent snow.   
The deep new snow layers should be very susceptible to the destabilizing affects of any sunshine received.”

Group Profile:  All members were snow professionals with backgrounds as ski patrollers, mountain guides, outdoor educators and avalanche instructors. Each member had logged  over 100 backcountry ski days.

Skier 1: Male. 27 years old.  Level II avalanche certified. EMT-B.
Skier 2: Female. 26 years old. Level II avalanche certified. Outdoor Emergency Care (OEC).
Skier 3: Male.  26 years old. Level III avalanche certified. OEC.
Skier 4: Male. 28 years old. Level III avalanche certified. EMT-B.

Narrative:  The group met at the Alpental Ski Area parking lot around 7:30 am with an ambitious tour plan that would cover close to 14 kilometers. The group’s alternate plan was to ski small, treed slopes in the area if they felt the snow was too unstable and the terrain was not manageable.
The group discussed group gear and decided to bring one cell phone, a bivy sack, ski straps for sled construction, a GPS, a small repair and first aid kit.
Twenty minutes into the tour, a member noted that they had neglected to do a beacon check in the parking lot. It was discovered that one of the members had forgotten his beacon so two of the skiers returned to the car to retrieve it. Upon discovering that the beacon was not in the car, they called the other two skiers on their cell phone. The others reported seeing a large, fresh debris pile on Source Lake.
The group decided to move their tour to a different drainage and ski lower angle, lower elevation old growth trees below Kendall Peak. The member without a beacon felt comfortable with this conservative terrain choice. None of the members had significant familiarity with this particular area.
The group followed a fresh skin track and ascended about 1,700 feet over 2 miles that led to the base of the west face of Kendall Peak. Upon reaching the top of the trees, the group decided to continue ascending towards a notch south of the main summit. They ascended a short open slope, which appeared to be protected by a large cliff, and entered another treed section that led to the notch. As they ascended the open slope, two of the members performed hand-shear tests and noted easy results, down 30cm.  They shared this information, but agreed that the snow lacked the energy to propagate a failure. In the trees, the snow was heavily wind affected and it appeared the westerly winds had blown the new snow over the ridge onto the east face. Upon reaching the ridge, the group cut a chunk of cornice onto the steep, wind-loaded east face and observed no results. At this point it was approximately 1:00 pm.
Skiers 3 and 4 expressed interest in exploring the west face. Skier 1 and 2 decided to descend the treed slope they had ascended. There was no discussion concerning how the two groups would interact or communicate.
Skiers 1 and 2 descended one at a time and stopped near the bottom of the trees. Skier 3 traversed the southwest facing shoulder to access the west face and triggered a soft-slab avalanche, 2-3 feet deep and 160 feet wide. The slide ran into the trees below and was funneled by the gully-like terrain shape.
Skier 1 and 2 were swept into trees a few feet apart and partially buried. Skiers 3 and 4 located them by spotting Skier 1’s arm waving above the snow. Both victims’ airways were cleared within 4-5 minutes.
Skier 2 had minor chest injuries and became a rescuer once excavated.
Shortly after the victims were excavated, a guide who had been traveling in the area with a client contacted the group and offered to assist. He became a valuable member of the rescue party, providing hot liquids and extra warm clothing as well as experience.
Skier 1 complained of difficulty breathing while lying flat and general abdominal pain from trauma. Despite a significant mechanism for spinal trauma, it was decided that breathing and evacuation were the priority concerns. No spinal tenderness or neurological deficits were observed upon assessment. The victim’s head was elevated to a comfortable position that allowed for easier breathing. Care was taken to minimize spinal movement as the victim was transferred and secured to an improvised sled.

Rescue: A helicopter rescue was organized via cell phone.  An improvised sled was constructed using Skier 1’s skis, backpack and poles, the bivy sack and ski straps. Skier 1 was moved out of the trees, downhill 400 feet to a flat, open area appropriate for a helicopter-landing zone. A Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue helicopter arrived on scene around 2:45 pm. Skier 1 was packaged, hoisted to the helicopter and delivered to a waiting ambulance by 3:50 pm.
Skier 1 arrived at the ER about 45 minutes later and was entering late stages of shock from internal bleeding. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Injuries:
Skier1: Fractured pelvis, kidney and spleen lacerations, collapsed lung (hemothorax), rib fractures, ACL rupture, L5-S1 fracture.
Skier 2: Rib bruising.

Avalanche: No crown profile was done, so it is unknown what the failure layer was. The crown is estimated at 2-3 feet deep and 160 feet wide at an elevation of about 5,400 feet.

























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Marcus
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #16 on: 12/09/10, 07:14 AM »

Thank you, again, for sharing this Dan.  It's valuable information for all of us.

I'm sure there are critical moments that stick out for you during the day -- what have you and your group taken away from this in terms of travel, assessment, risk, etc?

Glad you're recovering well and it's really great that you're being so open with this story.
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otter
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #17 on: 12/10/10, 12:48 PM »

Two key decision points were continuing above the lower trees and the splitting into two groups fro the descent (without discussing specifically how the groups would interact). However, as in all accidents, it was a series of decisions that lead to catastrophe, not just one mistake. Skiing without a beacon was another mistake, for the obvious reasons, but also because it made me doubt any negative intuitive feelings I was having. "Of course I'm spooked, I don't have a beacon"
Not having a tour plan forced us to make all our decisions on the fly, so they were heavily affected by emotion (desire).
Whether we should have continued up to the ridge is a subjective matter. I think that there are a lot of people who have similar risk tolerance levels that would have made the same decision. Others wouldn't even consider it because their risk tolerance is lower. That's personal. Our view of the terrain from below was limited because of our angle and low hanging clouds. From below, you cannot see the slope that slid because it is hidden behind a rock rib. The evidence of wind effect that is obvious from trumpetsailors pictures was not obvious that day because of light and clouds.
The slope that slid was perfectly configured to be loaded by WNW winds. It was SW facing and I would venture to say that other SW faces did not see the same kind of loading that day. It was the rib that caused the upper portion of the face to get loaded. Lower down, as we ascended the skier's right side of the trees, the slope had been scoured by the winds.
Regardless, we did go up and we could all have skied the ascent route without incident, though we never would have known that we were sitting in a terrain trap with a sensitive slope above us.
I guess the straw that broke the camel's back was when the goals of the group diverged and our difference in risk tolerance caused us to split up. We had made observations of the snowpack, but were doing a poor job observing ourselves, the human factors.
On the flip side, once shit hit the fan, our experience level as a group was what saved my life. And the fact that we had cell phone service.
Using GPS coordinates, we (when I say "we" from now on, it's referring more to my partners than me, though I was concsious and was an active part of the decision making process) were able to communicate our position. We were told by the SAR/ medics to stay put, they obviously were concerned with spinal injury. Our level of medical training allowed up to make the call that spinal precautions were lower priority than getting me to an LZ and keeping my head elevated so I could breathe (I was bleeding into my chest cavity, collapsing my lung). As guides, we had experience building improvised sleds out of skis, poles, and rubber ski straps.
There is no doubt in my mind, that had we maintained our position and waited for SAR to arrive with a backboard, I would have bled out and died. I arrived at Harborview a little over three hours after the accident and my pulses were barely palpable, meaning my blood pressure was dangerously low.
I seriously doubt that a normal, recreational group would have been able to pull off this rescue. They might not have continued above the trees either.
Lastly, I want to address the role of luck in this incident. Skier 2 and I were both wrapped around trees not 1 foot apart. She suffered some bruising to her ribs and had some difficulty breathing, but was physically able to be 100% involved in the rescue. I was unlucky, she was lucky. There is no way to predict the outcome if someone is caught in a slide.
I was incredibly lucky we had cell coverage, we had two cell phones, we brought ski straps and a bivy sack (gear we normally don't carry on recreational trips), a guide was in the area with his client and offered to assist, the helicopter could fly (they almost couldn't because of the weather) and that we were in such close proximity to Seattle.
Rant is done. Back to nursing school applications.
Dan


* Kendall_Pk_accident--slide_runout_4-9-10_2.jpg (158.32 KB, 1000x750 - viewed 1133 times.)

* KendallFracture.jpg (101 KB, 556x640 - viewed 1027 times.)
« Last Edit: 12/10/10, 01:07 PM by otter » Logged
CookieMonster
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #18 on: 12/10/10, 04:33 PM »

Otter, both these summaries are outstanding. They should be required reading for current and new members alike.

Thanks for taking the time to share with us.
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Stugie
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #19 on: 12/11/10, 10:12 PM »

Heal well, Dan! 

We were skiing at Alpental in and out of bounds that day. We heard the helicopters, and rumors were flying around the mountain.  The only input I have is:
a.   I remember we made the decision to ski the lifts because there was so much new powder - like 2 or 3 big dumps that week.  It was tempting to go B/C, but we didn't want to wade through that deep snow. 
b.  The B/C gates below upper International were open early, then closed around 1 or 2 I think.

Ditto.  Glad you're okay.  When we heard the helicoptors fly in, my mind jumped immediately to the unfortunate situation that you experienced as reality.  Thank you for sharing your insightful thoughts and reflections on this incident.
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Plinko
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Re: Kendall Peak Avalanche- April 9th, 2010
« Reply #20 on: 12/18/10, 12:14 AM »

Thanks again for sharing your intensely personal story and I'm glad you're still around to tell it! 

When I left Alpental that afternoon, it was just as the huey landed in the parking lot at West to make the transfer and it was such a sickening feeling, but some relief in the speed at which KCSAR were able to complete the rescue.  Things could have gone a lot differently.  You're truly inspiring for having gone through and overcome this.  +Vibes
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