Search Dogs Can Smell Buried Avalanche Victims Through Snow

Air Date: 03/02/2008
Source:
NBC News
Creator:
Lester Holt/Peter Alexander
Air/Publish Date:
03/02/2008
Event Date:
03/02/2008
Resource Type:
News Report
Copyright:
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
Copyright Date:
2008
Clip Length:
00:02:34

The Aspen Ski Patrol trains search and rescue dogs to sniff and dig out victims buried in avalanches. More than 30 people were killed in avalanches in the Rockies in 2008.

Search Dogs Can Smell Buried Avalanche Victims Through Snow

LESTER HOLT, anchor:

Looking at the blizzard conditions in the Colorado mountains today you might not believe that it was a record 74 degrees in Denver just yesterday. The changing weather, the continuing storms and the increasing snow pack in the mountain West are all contributing to a staggering number of avalanches that could make this one of the most dangerous years for winter sports enthusiasts. But as NBC's Peter Alexander reports, mountain communities are turning to a crack team of specialists ready to race to the rescue.

PETER ALEXANDER reporting:

They are one of the greatest dangers in nature: a mountain of snow roaring out of control.

Mr. ED COLBY: I was face down, kind of in the skydiver position like that, and I could feel the snow piling up on top of me.

ALEXANDER: Ed Colby was rescued after being buried for nearly five minutes. But this winter, fueled by historic snowfall, avalanches have already claimed at least 32 lives. The risk is growing as adventurous people, like the 18-year-old man wearing this helmet cam, head out of bounds and into dangerous terrain. In the worst case scenario, your survival may depend on a familiar ally like this four-year-old German Shepherd. Loadsay is part of an elite search and rescue team at Aspen Mountain, one of 10 dogs specially trained to find survivors.

Mr. MICHAEL FERRARA (Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol): The best chance of finding them is for one of these dogs to come out and smell them under the snow.

Come to heel. Come.

ALEXANDER: The dogs complete an intense year-long training regimen, running up to seven miles a day.

Mr. BRAD BENSON: So we'll walk around a little bit so that your scent doesn't just go straight from here to a hole.

ALEXANDER: These animals can cover more ground in less time than an entire team of searchers. The head of the program, Brad Benson, invited us to help bury three ski patrollers in snow caves.

Unidentified Man #1: How you guys doing?

ALEXANDER: The scene is designed to simulate the aftermath of a real avalanche. Fifteen minutes pass, then the call for help.

Unidentified Man #2: We have two victims, actually three victims buried.

Mr. BENSON: OK. We're headed that way. Let's go. Let's go to work.

ALEXANDER: Time is precious.

Mr. BENSON: Search!

ALEXANDER: He smells the scent of the person percolating up through the spaces between snowflakes.

Mr. BENSON: Show me. Gig, show me.

ALEXANDER: Loadsay found all three victims in less than eight minutes.

Offscreen Voice #1: All right, buddy. Come on out.

Unidentified Man #3: That was good.

Voice: Look what we got, Loadsay.

Offscreen Voice #2: Hit it. You got it. Good dog. Good dog. Good dog.

Offscreen Voice #3: Good boy, Loadsay. Good boy.

Unidentified Man #4: Chelsea. You can get out.

CHELSEA: All right.

ALEXANDER: To the dogs, it's just a game. If an avalanche strikes, they may not just be your best friend; they could be your best hope. Peter Alexander, NBC News, Aspen, Colorado.

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