Authorities: Rock slide victims all in same family

P. SOLOMON BANDA, Associated Press
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A Flight for Life Helicopter in south-central Colorado.  (AP Photo/The Mountain Mail, James Redmond)

A Flight for Life Helicopter in south-central Colorado. (AP Photo/The Mountain Mail, James Redmond)

BUENA VISTA, Colo. (AP) — All five people who were killed in a Colorado rockslide and a teenage girl who survived with the help of her father were members of the same family, authorities said Tuesday.

The girl was airlifted to a Denver hospital with a broken leg after being dug out by rescuers.

Deputy Nick Tolsma said he saw her hand sticking out from the rocks and helped pull her out. The girl said her father had protected her from the rocks, he said.

“She told me at the last second when the boulders were coming down on top of them that he covered her up and protected her which I believe it saved her life,” Tolsma said.

The names and ages of the family members haven’t been released.

Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze said the family was from Buena Vista, Colo.

A search team set out Tuesday to recover the bodies. Four can probably be recovered using hand tools, but special equipment will be needed to dislodge a huge boulder and retrieve the fifth body, said David Noltensmeyer of the North End Search and Rescue team.

He said the team might try moving the boulder with a heavy inflatable bag that firefighters use to lift large vehicles during rescues.

The slide sent 100-ton boulders onto a viewing area overlooking Agnes Vaille falls in Chalk Creek Canyon below Mount Princeton, a 14,197-foot peak in south-central Colorado.

Witnesses said some of the boulders were the size of cars.

Rescuers were unable to recover the bodies Monday because the rocks were dangerously unstable. The safety of the recovery team is still a concern and lookouts will keep a close eye on the slide.

“If anything moves, our people will come out,” he said.

A female hiker who heard the slide ran down the trail and called for help, Spezze said.

The area had a rainy summer and a recent snowfall, said Spezze. It was too soon to know if the weather prompted the slide, which left a football-field-sized gash in the mountainside, he said.

“It was totally unexpected. It caught everybody by surprise,” Spezze said.

The trail is one of the first hikes recommended to people new to the area and is also popular with tourists, said Margaret Dean, a regular hiker who has walked the trail with her 7-year-old grandson.

Dean, a copy assistant at The Mountain Mail newspaper in Salida, said the trail is easily accessible and provides a view of the falls and the Chalk Creek Valley in Collegiate Peaks, which contains mountains over 14,000-feet tall.

Agnes Vaille, the waterfall’s namesake, was a Denver mountaineer who died in 1925 while attempting a difficult winter climb of Longs Peak, which rises to 14,259 feet.

The U.S. Forest Service maintains the trail. Spezze said officials have asked the Forest Service for a permanent closure.

The Forest Service says the trail got medium to heavy usage. The trailhead lies across from Chalk Lake campground and is near the St. Elmo ghost town, a popular stop for tourists in Colorado’s central mountains.

 

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