A video of a heart-stopping rescue of a snowboarder buried headfirst in metres of snow has gone viral.
The video shows the rescuer frantically digging through the snow to free a snowboarder who was trapped in a tree well on a US mountain and was unable to breathe.
Francis Zuber was skiing on Mount Baker, far away from the ski runs, when he spotted a snowboard in the snow amidst the trees.
Zuber caught the heart-racing rescue on his head cam and posted the video online.
“I only caught a glimpse of his board but it was enough to get my attention,” he said in the description of his video, which shows him using his hands and later a shovel to free the trapped man.
The man survived and Zuber has been praised for his heroic actions.
But it could have been deadly.
Zuber spotted the snowboarder at “perfect timing,” according to a search and rescue specialist.
Dwight Yochim, the CEO of the British Columbia Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA), said these falls can turn fatal.
“You can tell [the snowboarder] was not going to be extracting himself from that situation. He wasn’t moving. There was no effort made by him to get out. He was stuck. That would have been extremely difficult. His feet were attached to that board upside down,” Yochim explained.
Near the end of the video, viewers could even see how distressed the snowboarder was as his lips were turning blue due to the lack of oxygen and the cold, Yochim added.
The video on YouTube has over 470,000 views, as of Monday afternoon.
Yochim praised Zuber for his instincts and added he most likely had the training and knowledge to help him in this situation.
How to escape tree wells
For those that don’t know what to do if they, or someone they know, fall into a tree well, Yochim explained to Daily Hive what you can do in both instances.
Firstly, a tree well is a “V-shape” that forms against the tree’s trunk.
“It is extremely easy to fall into those. But the unfortunate thing is the shape is like a deathtrap,” Yochim describes.
“A lot of people fall in headfirst and so you’re upside down in this tree well, that gets narrower and narrower and narrower. And as you move around, it starts to constrict you against the snowpack and the truck and it’s [a] very, very dangerous situation.”
If you fall in with your back against the tree, Yochim said people might try to push themselves up, which can be counterproductive.
“All you’re doing is pushing snow down and you’re packing yourself in more and more,” he said.
So the only way to get yourself out is to climb the tree upside down.
“That’s your only chance. You don’t have a lot of time. And if you’re facing away from the tree, that’s even much more challenging,” he added.
“Depending on the snowpack conditions, someone will have 15 minutes to an hour to escape,” according to Yochim.
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This is why Yochim urges anyone heading out on the slopes never to go alone.
“At least two people are better than one,” he said. “In that particular instance, you’re probably going to need help to get out of that tree well.”
“In a tree well, the compression between the snow and [the] tree can slowly make it more difficult to breathe and if you’re upside down the oxygen level can lower in that area,” Yochim explained.
“All of those factors lead to a very deadly situation,” he said.
Zuber added in the description of his YouTube video that the snowboarder was out on the mountain with three other riders who were all experienced and carrying rescue equipment.