Avalanche Survivors Describe Ordeal

RENO, Nev. (AP) Trapped on his back under 3 feet of snow, with a thin stream of air passing through a tiny hole he’d carved out, Derek Lerch spent hours screaming for help for himself and his three hiking companions.

His friend, Harry Eichelberger, was buried close to him by the avalanche that struck them near California’s Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada, and the two men shared the air vent.

“Dying wasn’t a burden after a while,” Eichelberger recalled Sunday. “It seemed easier than being down there, unable to see anything, not being able to breathe, shivering.” Eichelberger, Lerch and a third friend survived Saturday’s avalanche. A fourth, 21-year-old Malcolm Russell Hart of Dover, N.H., died.

Heavy snows and avalanches over the weekend killed three men out skiing and snowboarding in the central Colorado Rockies, about 130 miles southwest of Denver. In Utah, a massive slide took the life of a man on snowshoes.

Eichelberger and three fellow students at the University of California, Berkeley, were out sledding when they were caught by a storm. A series of storms in the area had dumped 2 to 4 feet of snow on the higher Sierra peaks. Wind gusts of more than 100 mph were reported over the Sierra crest during the weekend.

‘We thought the other two were dead for sure because we couldn’t hear them,” said Lerch, 21, of Chico. “The worst part is when I realized I couldn’t get out. The snow was just too heavy. I was certain I would die. I screamed for help all night long.” Eichelberger, 21, of Chicago, finally mustered his last strength to dig through the snow.

“He clawed little by little bit with his fingers,” Lerch said. “Harry was the hero. He was the one who made it out. If he didn’t, we all would still be there.” Lerch, Eichelberger, and Marisa Nelson, 20, of Chico, were released Sunday after being treated for hypothermia.

Killed in a different avalanche Saturday were Andrew P. Vork, 19, of Parker, Colo.; Casey James McKenny, 19, of Marquette, Mich., and Matthew Alan Noddin, 22, of Portland, Maine. Justin Hiel, 22, died in a Utah avalance.