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3 Die in Mammoth Ski Patrol Accident

Two men fall into a volcanic vent while fencing it off. A rescuer also is killed and seven are hurt. Resort's death toll this year hits eight.

April 07, 2006|Amanda Covarrubias and Doug Smith | Times Staff Writers

Mammoth Mountain stands on the southwest rim of the Long Valley Caldera, part of a volcanic chain that extends to Mono Lake. High concentrations of carbon dioxide have been seeping to the surface since a 1989 earthquake and have killed more than 100 acres of trees on Mammoth Mountain.

Volcanic gas emissions are believed to have caused at least two California skiing deaths. In 1998, a 58-year-old cross-country skier from Torrance in good physical condition died in nearby Horseshoe Lake. He was found face down, and he was believed to have died from "carbon dioxide toxicity," according to the Mono County coroner. In 1995, a cross-country skier fell into a fumarole in Lassen Volcanic National Park and survived a week before succumbing to the effects of inhaling toxic fumes.

After blizzard conditions Wednesday, Thursday was a beautiful, clear day on the mountain, with temperatures in the 50s.

Skiers in line to board the gondola to the top first learned that an accident had occurred after a lift attendant suddenly announced, without elaborating, that "the top of the mountain was closed." But within seconds, a skier in line got a call on a cellphone and then told a friend that a ski patroller had died.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday April 08, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Mammoth Mountain: Text in a graphic in Friday's Section A said the Long Valley Caldera extends to Mono Lake. The volcanic chain of which the caldera is a part reaches Mono Lake, but the caldera does not.

Word spread quickly, and the accident was the talk of the slopes, though details were scarce. Skiers saw the emergency vehicles staging at the base of the mountain.

The deaths were another blow to the well-regarded ski patrol, which lost Sara Johanna Carlsson, 31, a native of Sweden, in January when she was killed in an avalanche skiing off-duty near Bridgeport with two other Mammoth ski patrol members.

"When you have folks doing what they are paid to do and falling into a vent, it's close, it's personal and it ripples throughout the community," said Wood, the Mammoth Lakes mayor. "There's a collective feeling of devastation you cannot measure. These are the unheralded heroes who make the mountain work. They're the guys who make it an enjoyable, safe place to ski."

Times staff writers Steve Hymon, J. Michael Kennedy and Hemmy So in Los Angeles and Jeffrey M. Johnson in Mammoth Lakes contributed to this report.

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