ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- An Alaska hiker is lucky to be alive after he was buried during an avalanche and another hiker saw his feet and freed him, officials said.
The hiker was alone on Flattop Mountain around 1 p.m. Saturday when an avalanche buried him, the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center said.
The hiker kicked his legs free. But his head and upper body were trapped in the snow, and he was pinned under large blocks of frozen debris, the center said.
Alex Kuprienko of Anchorage was hiking past the area around 2:30 p.m. and saw moving feet sticking out of the snow, he said.
Kuprienko dug through the hard debris and was able to free the victim in about five minutes, he said.
"Honestly, at first I thought it was a kid playing around in the snow, didn't think much of it," Kuprienko said, adding that because no other people were there he decided to look closer. “I went up, and sure enough, there was a guy buried in the snow with his legs sticking up. So he was on his back, face up, but obviously head down into the snow.”
The trapped hiker, who was not named, was cold and showed signs of hypothermia but was conscious. Kuprienko called 911, and medics had arrived when they reached a parking lot below the trail.
The avalanche occurred when heavy winds caused a slab of 2 to 3 feet (61 to 91 centimeters) to become unstable and fall in the short but steep terrain, said Wendy Wagner, director of the avalanche information center.
The avalanche fell in large blocks, which allowed air pockets to form within the debris. The victim’s head was 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 centimeters) below the ice and snow, and he was likely able to breathe because he was near a pocket of air, Wagner said.
“It’s unbelievably lucky,” Wagner said. “It’s really rare that someone has a positive outcome after being trapped under the snow for over an hour.”
“This was a remarkable success story in so many ways,” Wagner said.