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Famous Anchorage Physician Killed By Avalanche On Verde Peak in Wrangell-St Elias NP

April 14 2003 at 2:04 PM
roger  (no login)

Response to April 2003 Accidents/Rescues


Wrangell - St Elias National Park & Preserve (AK)
Skier Killed By Avalanche On Verde Peak

On the afternoon of April 10th, Paul Claus of Ultima Thule Outfitters contacted chief ranger
Hunter Sharp by satellite phone and informed him that one of his clients had been killed in an
avalanche. The client was later identified as Dr. Robert L. Pulliam III, 55, of Anchorage. Sharp
contacted Alaska state troopers, who have primary jurisdiction on fatalities in the park, and
informed them of the incident. Ranger/pilot Tom Betts flew a trooper to Chitina airport, where he
conducted interviews with Claus, guide Drew Lovell, and Pulliam’s skiing partner, Dr. Hedrick
Hanson. Claus had landed the trio on the summit of Verde peak to begin their descent. Both
Lovell and Hanson said that the group was staying high on the ridge, out of the danger zone,
when they looked back and saw Pulliam ski down into the gully. Pulliam stopped and was
performing a kick turn when the slope gave way about ten feet upslope. Pulliam lost his balance
and fell head first upslope into the debris. A second release immediately occurred above the first
fracture and more snow came down on top of him. The slide continued for approximately 1700
feet. Pulliam was wearing a transciever and his body was located approximately 25 minutes after
the slide occurred. He suffered severe head trauma and was lifeless when pulled out of the
debris. Neither Lovell nor Hanson was caught in the slide. Claus first learned of the fatality when
he flew over the skiers to check on them at approximately 2:30 in the afternoon. After interviews
were conducted, Betts and the trooper flew to the site to obtain aerial photos. Due to the lateness
of the day, recovery efforts were put off until the next morning. At approximately 9 a.m., the next
morning, Betts met with Claus and five of his employees and a private helicopter owned and
operated by a friend of Claus at a frozen lake below the accident site. Claus and three of his
employees were flown to the summit of Verde peak. They reached Pulliam’s body by the same
route that Lovell had taken the day before. Betts and two others skied from the valley below up to
the site. The body was extricated and skied down to a point where the helicopter was able hook
on with a long line and sling the body down to the airplanes below. Prior to leaving the site one of
the rescuers led the group in a very moving short memorial service. Media interest has been high
as both of the doctors are well known in the Anchorage community.
[Submitted by Tom Betts, Park Ranger]

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