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.
Matt's head was buried three feet below the surface. Because of his hood, there was a tiny area in front of his face that was ice-free. He tried to dig upward, but the snow has turning to ice because of the warmth of his breath. "He was cemented in. There was no way he could move. He dug up as far as he could, but he couldn't get to the surface."
“It was one of those mind-numbing moments that etches itself into a memory like nothing else,” reported WND. Matt had flown down the slope on his snowboard, but when the massive wave of snow caught him, “it hit me with a lot of force,” he told WND. With no idea how deep he was buried, he struggled, but knew it would take a miracle for him to survive.
“Michael, had flung himself backward when the snow broke to not get caught,” reports AG News, the news service of the Assemblies of God churches. “Then he had run down the slope after his brother.”
“The only thing I knew to do was cry out to God and ask, ‘What should I do – call search and rescue or go find him?’” Michael told AG News. “God spoke to me, ‘Go find your brother.’ I followed His orders, I didn’t think about it, I ran down the hill and chunks of snow the size of my truck were still coming down around me.”
Under the snow, Matt began to yell, but there was no response. “I'm probably going to die,” he thought. Remarkably, he felt God's peace. He remembered hearing about a prophecy given to his mother, Becky, when she was four-months pregnant with him. She had started to hemorrhage and a doctor had informed her by phone she was probably miscarrying.
However, her husband was leading a group of teens from church and the kids all prayed over her. “One of the kids prophesied, ‘You’re not going to lose that baby because God’s going to do great things with him,’” Becky remembers.
The bleeding stopped and Matt was born full-term and healthy.
“My brother definitely has a calling on his life,” Michael told AG News. “He leads worship, leads in the youth group and is so talented. I didn’t want to see that go to waste – because he’s going to do something great for God!”
Buried in the snow, Matt remembered that prayer. He says he knew he was in God's hands.
As his big brother ran down toward the bottom of the avalanche, chunks of snow the size of his truck were still coming down around him. There was no sign of his little brother and he had no idea where he was. Michael yelled for Matt, but heard only silence.
Out of an area about 100 yards by 200 yards, Michael happened to step on the exact spot was his brother was entombed. His boot sunk down into a depression the size of a baseball.
And that’s when the brothers got their miracle.
The heel of Michael’s boot sank into the tiny depression in the snow – “where I had been digging,” recalls Matt, “and I could see his boot. I called out, ‘Mike, I’m fine, Mike I’m fine.’”
“I stopped yelling for a second, and I heard Matt,” recalls Michael. “I looked down and there was this little tiny hole about the size of a baseball in the snow. I started digging frantically.”
The miracle they got was that Michael’s boot, in a snowslide of tens of thousands of square yards, hit on the exact four-inch square spot where Matt had been digging from beneath the snow.
“When I found him, I broke down and cried,” Michael told AG News. “I was so happy – the fear and heartache I just experienced were gone!”
It took Michael half an hour to dig out enough of the hardened snow to release his brother. Meanwhile, sections of the mountain continued to collapse. When the brothers returned the following day, the rest of the ridge had collapsed, burying the entire area under several additional feet.
Was it one of those one-in-a-million chance events that saved Matt, or divine intervention?
The brothers have no doubt. They know what they heard and lived that day.
"Matt should have died," their dad says. "The only reason he was found is that God did it. I know it was a miracle. There is no doubt in my mind."
Check out an interview of the brothers describing their miraculous ordeal.