Deadly Backcountry Accident Likely Caused By Cornice Failure

A few new details have emerged in the backcountry skiing accident that caused the death of one person and injured two others over the weekend near Haines.

Alaska State Troopers were in Haines on Monday, interviewing witnesses and investigating the incident that claimed the life of 34-year-old Christian Cabanilla. He was part of a group of five skiers on a commercial heliskiing tour Sunday with Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA). According to troopers, the group was dropped off on a ridge near Garrison Glacier at nearly 6,000 feet elevation in the mountains near Haines. Troopers said the group was walking on the ridge to their start point when they described hearing a “whomp” sound. That’s when the snow under them collapsed and four of the five skiers fell down the ridge an estimated 600 to 1,000 feet. The guide of the group was not involved in the fall.

Troopers said the SEABA-owned helicopter was observing the group and responded to rescue the three injured skiers.

Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters said the incident was likely a cornice failure and not an avalanche. Peters said after the fall, the four skiers came to rest on top of the snow and appear to have been injured from the fall, not from being buried in snow.

SEABA helicopters flew the skiers to the Haines Airport where ambulances met the patients and transported them to the Haines clinic. Cabanilla was pronounced dead at the clinic. His body was flown to Anchorage for autopsy. The two injured skiers were transported to a Juneau hospital. One of them was later transported to Harborview Medical Center in Juneau. Peters said troopers would not release the type of injuries and are not tracking their condition, but the injuries were initially described as “non-life threatening.”

Troopers are not releasing the names of any of the other skiers involved because they are considered witnesses in the death investigation.

SEABA company officials have not commented since Monday when they said they were mourning the loss of a friend. Cabanilla was employed as a guide with SEABA, but on Sunday, he was not skiing with the group as the lead guide, according to the company and troopers.

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