Buried under an avalanche, unsure whether he was under mere inches or deadly tons of quickly hardening snow, 17-year-old snowboarder Matt Walsh tried to dig himself out, wondering whether his 19-year-old brother Michael was still alive.
Scratching away at the snow over him, Matt knew he had about seven minutes to break through to fresh air or else his life would be over. As he scratched away with his gloved fingers, he was flooded with thoughts of his family, his parents – and his brother who was somewhere nearby – Matt knew not where.
“Matt had just jumped onto his snowboard on a slope called Polecat Bench when he heard the pop-pop-pop and saw cracks opening in the snowfield beneath his feet,” reports World News Daily. His brother, Michael, was still putting together his gear, preparing to follow Matt down the slope.
But unexpectedly behind the brothers, tons of snow began collapsing in killer waves rippling down the mountain. It’s every skier’s nightmare. This year, 17 have already died in avalanches.
Racing ahead of the collapse, Matt “flew down the slope on his board, apparently only inches ahead of the massive wave of snow. But at the bottom, he lost the race,” reports WND.
“It hit me with a lot of force,” recounts Matt. “I knew I was getting buried. I just couldn’t believe that could happen where we were. I remember it hitting my back and feeling it going around me and getting deeper and deeper. I had no idea how deep I was, but I figured I was probably too deep to get out with the equipment we had.”
The slide tumbled him head over heels, disorienting him. He ended up in a sitting position under the surface of the snow, which quickly began hardening to ice around him.
“He could move one arm, a little,” reports WND.
"It's not a place where most people go snowboarding," says their dad, Mike Walsh, of Powell, Wyoming. Because he didn't want to be an overbearing parent, and since his sons are "tough Wyoming boys who like to hunt and fish," he backed off from telling them not to go. He wanted them to have a day of adventure, he told the website God Reports.
“Saturday, February 8th was picture-perfect, with 10-foot drifts of fluffy-looking snow scattered across the Bench. It was snow that seemed to have been there for months, with little risk of avalanche,” notes the website. Normally, the brothers – who are best friends – would have snowboarded off the top of the ridge together. But on that day, younger brother Matt was ready to go first and spun off the top, hurtling down the 60-degree incline.
Michael stood at the edge, pulling on his gloves.
"All of a sudden Michael saw the whole mountain go off,” their father recalls. Michael had to flip his body backward to avoid being swept over the edge himself.
When he got up, slightly dazed, the mountainside was enveloped in an enormous cloud of snow dust – and Michael had no idea where his little brother might be. He knew, however, that Matt had probably been caught by the avalanche, which covered an area the size of two football fields.
Michael had no idea where to look, says their father. The older boy realized his cellphone was in his pickup and he worried whether he should run to the truck and dial 9-1-1 – assuming he had a signal. Or should he try to find his brother?
Buried avalanche victims usually have no more than 15 minutes to live. The air trapped with them is used up and they die.
Michael never felt so hopeless or helpless in his life, recalls the Christian Post. Frantically, he cried out to God: "What should I do?"
Afterward, he told his father, "Dad, I've never heard God speak before, but I heard him there. He said, 'Go find your brother.' It was very clearly the voice of God."
Michael began to work his way down the debris field, knowing every minute counted with his brother buried somewhere out of sight.
Generally rescuers have about seven minutes to find someone buried by an avalanche before they pass out. “In 15 minutes you're usually dead," notes the boys’ dad.