MAMMOTH LAKES, CA - Two miles high in the Eastern Sierra, a volcanic hotspot swallowed the record 21-foot snowpack, claimed two of California's most experienced ski experts who fell into its maw, and then took the life of a colleague who tried to save them.
The deaths came on April 6 despite a series of heroic rescue efforts on Mammoth Mountain
, one of the state's premier winter resorts, authorities said.
The tragedy unfolded in a fumarole, a crevasse that emits gases from deep within the mountain, set in a huge volcanically active basin.
Two ski patrol members had taken off their skis and were shoveling out the record snows that had obscured the 4-foot-high safety fence around the known hazard when the snow, apparently weakened by heat from below, gave way.
James Juarez, 35, a five-year veteran of the Mammoth Mountain ski patrol originally from Granada Hills, and John "Scott" McAndrews, 37, a Mammoth Mountain ski patroller from Bishop, fell to the bottom of the pit. They were engulfed in fumes, which elsewhere on the mountain emit a sickening sulfurous odor.
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