UPDATED Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Massive Slide Kills Late Afternoon Back Country Skier
by Marta Tarbell
Mar 31, 2012 | 5985 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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WESTERN SAN JUANS – John Knox McEwen Frank, 34, of Crested Butte, died after triggering a massive slide in San Juan County, about six miles west of Silverton, on Friday, March 30.

Frank, who arrived with a group of 14 skiers, at OPUS Hut, an overnight facility at the top of Ophir Pass, at approximately 1:30 p.m., headed out with three other skiers at approximately 3:30 p.m., according to San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters.

At approximately 4 p.m., fellow skiers saw Frank, who had gone roughly 50 yards when the avalanche broke, tumble violently down the slope, caught in a slide running approximately 5,000 feet long and 200 yards wide, near the crown.

By 4:30 p.m., Telluride Helitrax pilot Chuck MacFarland, responding to a 4:15 p.m. emergency call from OPUS Hut owner/manager Bob Kingsley, was depositing passengers – members of a Warren Miller ski film crew – at the scene to begin the rescue.

They were soon joined by members of San Miguel County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue and Telluride Ski Patrol, and by remaining members of Frank’s 14-member backcountry ski party, who had suited up and headed to the site following initial reports of the slide, at the valley bottom.

After 30 to 45 minutes of searching, rescuers found Frank, who was wearing an avalanche beacon, buried under seven feet of snow roughly 1,000 feet from where he was last seen; he had no pulse and was not breathing. The cause of death was later determined to be asphyxiation.

His body was transported to the town of Ophir on the west side of the pass, in a rescuer’s vehicle.

POSTED Saturday, March 31

One skier was killed and three escaped a massive avalanche on the east side of Ophir Pass on Friday.

The skiers were staying at the OPUS backcountry hut near the top of Ophir Pass. The hut operator called for help when the party was overdue back to the hut. A helicopter operated by Helitrax saw the slide in Paradise Basin, in San Juan County, and called in Search and Rescue at around 4:15 p.m.

San Miguel County Coronor Emile Sante, who was with the SAR party, has identified the deceased as Knox Frank, whose full name was John Knox Mcewen-Frank, of Crested Butte. He was 34 and is survived by his mother, father, a brother and a sister.

The slide, off of the east face of South Lookout Peak, left a two- to four-foot crown, ran approximately 1700 feet and left debris up to 15 feet deep. Knox was carried nearly a half mile. Although Knox was wearing a beacon, conditions were so treacherous that the three remaining skiers in the group were not able to reach him for 45 minutes.

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, Frank's was the seventh avalanche death in Colorado this season.

Additional details will be reported as they become available.

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