October 1, 2013

Five hikers killed by Colo. rock slide all in same family

Authorities say the one survivor is a teenage girl who is being treated for a broken leg.

By P. Solomon Banda
The Associated Press

BUENA VISTA, Colo. – Authorities say the five people who were killed and a girl who survived a Colorado rock slide were members of the same family.

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Chaffee County emergency agencies set up a command center at Chimney Rock road, off of CR 162 while they respond to a rock slide at Agnes Vaille Falls Monday.

The Associated Press

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A Flight for Life Helicopter rises above backed up traffic Monday in south-central Colorado. Roads were closed as emergency personnel work to aid hikers trapped after a rock slide on the trail to Agnes Vaille Falls.

The Associated Press

Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze said Tuesday the family was from Buena Vista, Colo.

Their names and ages haven’t been released.

Authorities say the survivor is a teenage girl who is being treated for a broken leg.

The rock slide crashed down Monday on a popular and scenic trail in south-central Colorado.

A search team set out Tuesday to recover the bodies of five hikers who were killed when a rock slide crashed onto a popular, scenic trail in Colorado.

A teenage girl survived the Monday slide and was being treated at a Denver hospital for a broken leg.

Four of the bodies can probably be recovered using hand tools, but special equipment will be needed to dislodge a huge boulder and retrieve the fifth body, said David Noltensmeyer of the North End Search and Rescue team.

He said the team might try moving the boulder with a heavy inflatable bag that firefighters use to lift large vehicles during rescues.

The slide sent 100-ton boulders onto a viewing area overlooking Agnes Vaille falls in Chalk Creek Canyon below Mount Princeton, a 14,197-foot peak in south-central Colorado.

Witnesses said some of the boulders were the size of cars.

Rescuers were unable to recover the bodies Monday because the rocks were dangerously unstable. The safety of the recovery team is still a concern and lookouts will keep a close eye on the slide.

“If anything moves, our people will come out,” he said.

Authorities have not released the names of the victims or said whether they were a single group. A female hiker who heard the slide ran down the trail and called for help, said Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze.

The area had a rainy summer and a recent snowfall, said Spezze. It was too soon to know whether the weather prompted the slide, which left a football-field-sized gash in the mountainside, he said.

“It was totally unexpected. It caught everybody by surprise,” Spezze said.

The trail is one of the first hikes recommended to people new to the area and is also popular with tourists, said Margaret Dean, a regular hiker who has walked the trail with her 7-year-old grandson.

Dean, a copy assistant at The Mountain Mail newspaper in Salida, said the trail is easily accessible and provides a view of the falls and the Chalk Creek Valley in Collegiate Peaks, which contains mountains over 14,000-feet tall.

Agnes Vaille, the waterfall’s namesake, was a Denver mountaineer who died in 1925 while attempting a difficult winter climb of Longs Peak, which rises to 14,259 feet.

The U.S. Forest Service maintains the trail. Spezze said officials have asked the Forest Service for a permanent closure.

The Forest Service says the trail got medium to heavy usage. The trailhead lies across from Chalk Lake campground and is near the St. Elmo ghost town, a popular stop for tourists in Colorado’s central mountains.

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