January 6, 2004 - Reno Gazette Journal,: Tonga RPCV Joseph Gashler dies in ski accident in Colorado

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tonga: Peace Corps Tonga : The Peace Corps in Tonga: January 6, 2004 - Reno Gazette Journal,: Tonga RPCV Joseph Gashler dies in ski accident in Colorado

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Tonga RPCV Joseph Gashler dies in ski accident in Colorado

Tonga RPCV Joseph Gashler dies in ski accident in Colorado

Rescue workers find body of Joseph Gashler

Rescuers prepare to leave the area where the search for the missing skier was conducted across Interstate 80 from Boreal Mountain Playground on Monday.

Using long poles to probe, rescue workers Monday found the body of a California cross-country skier who was swept away and buried in an avalanche west of Truckee on New Year’s Day.

Working in a tight line Monday morning, 22 pole workers found Joseph “Drew” Gashler’s body at the bottom of the field of broken ice and snow north of the Boreal Ridge Ski Resort, said Sgt. Joe Salivar, search commander for the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office.

The three-day search began Saturday near Castle Peak, about 10 miles west of Truckee. Rescuers initially found Gashler’s glove and a ski skin in the middle of an avalanche field, where workers and their dogs concentrated the search for two days.

Gashler, 37, of Pacific Grove, Calif., supervised the use of remote-controlled submarines used for deep-sea research at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, according to the Monterey County Herald newspaper.

“I would have been proud to be his father, Steve Etchemendy, his supervisor at the institute, told the newspaper. “He was taking the initiative and helping to create a new kind of science.”

He was also a long-distance runner, a guitarist, a Peace Corps worker in Tonga and a high school science teacher. “Someone really raised him right,” Etchemendy said.

More than 120 people were involved in the search that began Saturday afternoon. Gashler’s companion holed up in a cabin for two days and then stumbled into two other cross-country skiers who had a cell phone he used to call for help.

The search effort was massive: Boreal Ridge Ski Resort provided a grooming machine to carve a road through the snow to the top of a ridge where snowcats, snowmobiles and people on skis and snowshoes could get to the avalanche area. A Nevada Highway Patrol helicopter also searched the area.

Gashler and his friend from San Jose, who did not want to be named, had just broken camp New Year’s Day morning and were heading off to the Peter Grubb Hut to wait out the storm, Salivar said.

In a whiteout blizzard, Salivar said the two men had unknowingly walked under a snow cornice. When they finally spotted the snowy overhang, they tried to get away as fast as they could. But it was too late. With the high winds, the cornice collapsed, setting off the avalanche.

Gashler’s friend, whom the Herald reported as a former classmate at Stanford University, last saw his friend 30-40 yards ahead of him in the moving snow before he disappeared, Salivar said.

Rescue workers found Gashler’s body against a tree under four to five feet of snow and ice.

“We are assuming he hit the tree pretty hard,” Salivar said. “We are assuming he wasn’t suffering. It’s highly possible he was knocked unconscious. It’s safe to say the elements overcame him.”

Gashler’s body was found about 40-50 yards from where his companion was buried waist-deep in the avalanche, Salivar said.

“He tried to find him. But Gashler’s avalanche beacon wasn’t working,” Salivar said.

“He had just dug himself out, he was exhausted. He had no clue where his friend was. His biggest concern, and rightly so, was his survival,” he said.

The skiing companion stayed in the hut Thursday and Friday nights while another two to three feet of snow piled up. He started hiking out of the wilderness Saturday after the storm broke.

Eighteen inches of snow fell New Year’s Day, said Gary Murphy, avalanche forecaster at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort near Lake Tahoe.

“We had 90 mph average winds,” Murphy said. “We had peak gusts of 128 mph. There was a lot of loading of snow. That loading creates slabs. Those slab avalanches can be skier triggered or naturally triggered.”

“When you have that intense of activity, you are going to have avalanches in steep terrain,” Murphy said.

The U.S. Forest Service is warning backcountry skiers to approach steep gullies and open mountain faces with caution, especially above 8,000 feet.

Helping with the rescue were Nevada and Placer counties sheriff’s staffs, ski patrols and rescue groups including Tahoe Nordic, Tahoe National Forest, Squaw Valley and Boreal Ridge and Truckee police and firefighters and Donner Summit firefighters.

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Story Source: Reno Gazette Journal,

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Tonga; Obituary



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