SILVERTON, Colo. — The bodies of three skiers missing after an avalanche, identified as Eagle County government officials, have been recovered, the San Juan Office of Emergency Management said Thursday.
The skiers went missing after an avalanche between Ophir and Silverton Monday. In a press conference Wednesday, Eagle County officials identified the victims as Seth Bossung, energy efficiency project manager for Eagle County; Andy Jessen, Mayor Pro Tem for the Town of Eagle; and Adam Palmer, sustainable communities director for Eagle County.
Search crews were able to find the skiers Wednesday because they were wearing beacons identifying their location. They were buried in more than 20 feet of avalanche debris. The three still needed to be removed from the area by a helicopter, which couldn't fly Wednesday because of adverse weather conditions.
Emergency management said crews worked from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday in the recovery effort. La Plata County Search & Rescue had to use a snowcat to remove 12-foot high avalanche debris from the road from another avalanche Tuesday that ran naturally through the area. They also had to retrieve trapped snowmobiles and equipment used in the search.
The bodies are retrieved on Thursday by helicopter and were transferred to the San Juan County Coroner's office for positive identification.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said Tuesday morning seven people were traveling in an area known as The Nose around Middle Fork Mineral Creek. Four people were caught, carried and fully buried in debris. One person was located and had minor injuries.
Eagle County officials released a joint statement Tuesday that reads, in part: “Our hearts are heavy with the loss of these three men. Their contributions through their work in local government and local businesses, as well as their personal passions and their impact on the friends and family members they leave behind, have helped shape the community in ways that will be forever lasting."
Gov. Jared Polis released the following statement Wednesday evening:
“Those tragically lost in this avalanche were pillars of their community, public servants and friends to many. My thoughts are with their families, friends, and the Eagle County community during what must be a heart-wrenching and unimaginable moment."
Officials ask everyone to avoid the Ophir Pass area.
An Avalanche Warning is also in effect for the Aspen and Gunnison region Wednesday because of strong winds and heavy snowfall. Avalanche danger in the backcountry is listed as "considerable" in most of the state's central and southern mountains.