April 7, 2006
Three ski patrollers at Mammoth Mountain, California, died on the mountain Thursday when they fell into a fumarole, a geothermal vent that releases volcanic gas, while attempting to reposition safety fences around it.
Patrollers John McAndrews, 37, and James Juarez, 35, both from California, fell 21 feet through the six-foot opening. Colleagues Walter Rosenthal and Jeff Bridges rushed to their aid and entered the hole, but of the four, only Bridges survived. Though the cause of death has not been determined, spokespeople at the resort believe it could be attributed to oxygen deprivation.
A fumarole emits carbon dioxide and water vapor, and the heat from these emissions creates a hole for the vent. This heat can cause the surrounding snowpack to become unstable, which could prove hazardous to skiers if they get too close. According to LA Times reports, volcanic gas emissions have contributed to the deaths of two skiers in the past ten years.
Six more employees involved in the rescue operation were admitted to Mammoth Hospital following exposure to the toxic fumes. All are expected to go home today. This latest tragedy comes toward the close of a particularly harsh season for Mammoth, bringing the total number of deaths to eight.
Said Mammoth Mountain CEO and spokesperson Rusty Gregory, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family members and the employees of Ski Patrol. This tragedy is beyond words.