Avalanche Survivor Saved by Airbag; 3 Other Skiers Buried by Snow

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By Daniel Distant, Christian Post Reporter
February 20, 2012|3:34 pm

An avalanche survivor credited an airbag and quick thinking for saving her life in Washington's Cascade Mountains.

Elyse Saugstad, a professional skier, became the sole survivor of the avalanche Sunday because she happened to be wearing an inflatable airbag that kept her above the snow and out of harm's way.

"It happened really fast, ultimately I think you don't have much time to react," Saugstad told "Good Morning America" Monday. "The first thing that came to my mind was to use my airbag device."

Her three colleagues were not so lucky. Although all three of Saugstad's colleagues were professional skiers, but their run ended in catastrophe.

Jim Jack, a free-skiing world tour judge, Chris Rudolph, a Stevens Pass Marketing Director, and John Brenan, a fellow skier, were all buried beneath the snow. All three men had risked potentially hazardous ski runs before, according to Deputy Chris Bedker of the King County Sheriff's Search and Rescue.

"Everyone that is skiing was an experienced skier, and they were all wearing their avalanche beacons," Bedker told ABC News, referring to a gadget used to find buried skiers after an avalanche.

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The device Saugstad used was an airbag system, composed of two inflatable bags that allow the user to float relatively high up in the snow, as opposed to being dragged beneath it.

"It's a relatively new thing in America," said Saugstad, who is originally from Alaska. She assured viewers that the airbag did not relieve the discomfort of being trapped beneath 300 feet of snow, however.

"It's not like an inner-tube ride. It's kind of like you're in a washing machine," said the pro skier.

The avalanche, which came through Stevens Pass, swept the four skiers between an estimated 2,000 and 3,000 vertical feet down the mountain.

The bodies of the victims were eventually recovered, but no amount of CPR or medical treatment could revive them.

Saugstad told reporters that she will continue to ski, because her colleagues -- two of which she knew personally -- would not want her to quit, despite the unfortunate circumstances.

"I'm just still in shock," she said. "I'm absolutely devastated at the loss of our friends. My heart goes out to the family and the skiing community."

SEE VIDEO OF AN AVALANCHE SURVIVORS AIR BAG RIDE TO SAFETY

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