Three survivors faced 'gut-wrenching' dilemma - Here’s to the boys - The Free Press Turns 115 Years Old

January 8 2009        Free Press Files

Jeff Adams, Jeremy Rusnak and James Drake survived the two avalanches that killed their eight friends, but were then left with the dilemma – to try to dig them out, and risk being buried by another slide, or try to walk to safety?

Rusnak and Drake were injured in the slides and have not spoken publicly about the accident.

On Tuesday last week Adams returned to the avalanche site to help search and rescue teams locate the final missing body – that of his buddy and bowling partner Danny Bjarnason.

He was due to speak to the media hours later, but became distressed as he walked towards the cameras outside Fernie Search Hall and called off the interview.

He eventually gave his interview to one camera and several reporters in Sparwood last Wednesday morning.

Family members have shown strong sympathy for the three survivors’ dilemma and decision.

Thomas Talarico’s friend Derek Polacik paid tribute to them during his speech at the communal memorial on Sunday.

"When you walk down the street we urge you to hold your heads high. Be proud because, rest assured, that is what your friends would have wanted you to do."

Jeff’s story

Mike Stier was stuck at the base of the mountain wheeling his sled out when the first slide hit us… everybody was down at the bottom and scattering, running. I stayed there and watched Mike so I wouldn’t lost sight of him because I knew he was going to be buried and little did I know that I ended up being buried myself.

"After being under the snow for a minute or two Danny dug me out. I got up, asked who we were missing. Danny said Mike. I get up take off all my gear and get my probe, flip my peeps over into search and went out looking for Mike.

"We located Mike and started digging and that’s when the second group of four guys showed up, came right up to where we were digging and jump off the sleds and started digging too.

"At 2 p.m. Kabel pushed 911 on his spot transmitter and Jeremy Rusnak was getting up to go for help. At 2.05 we heard a crack and that’s when the second slide hit us burying all 11 of us.

" I managed to float almost to the surface. When I opened my eyes I could see daylight… I was digging… I managed to get my mouth free but I was already choking… I took a few breaths and after about five minutes of struggling I got myself out. I look around there wasn’t anybody else,

"I couldn’t see sleds, no gear, nothing. I yelled and I heard somebody yell back. That is when I went and found Jeremy (Rusnak). I had no gloves, no toque, I started digging Jeremy out, it took about 15 minutes to get him out I got him out, Jeremy stood up and we yelled again and heard one more person and found James.

"We were digging James out we heard a crack again and said ‘’Sorry James we gotta run’ as we were running away from James he was saying ‘Don’t leave me here, don’t leave me here’. We were saying ‘We’re sorry’. It set off to the side the slide never hit us we just got the cloud.

"We went back and finally got James out, pulled James off to the side. I dropped my equipment to help him. I took a look around, couldn’t see anybody, couldn’t see any hands or feet sticking out. We were contemplating whether to get the one snowmobile that wasn’t hit by the slide out.

"That was when we made the decision it wasn’t safe to go there, that was when we made the gut-wrenching decision to leave our eight friends and start walking off the mountain.

"After we walked for about 10 minutes or so and contemplating whether to go back I turned to look one more time, as I turn to look at the mountain the whole of the centre of the mountain came down burying everything again.

"We decided the best bet was to keep walking, I kept asking Jeremy what time it was because I know that if the 911 call worked it wouldn’t be long for a helicopter.

"The helicopter we could see circling around the slide area for about five minutes , it started coming down the valley towards us and we thought everything was going be OK then it went away so we decided to keep walking and try to find a cabin.

"We saw the helicopter coming back over the mountain one more time and this time for some reason it came straight at us and found us, picked all three of us up and out of there."

For more great stories that ran in The Free Press in the past 115 years

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