American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Fall into Crevasse, Unroped, Public on Glacier, Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Athabasca Glacier

  • Accident Reports
  • Accident Year:
  • Publication Year: 1991

FALL INTO CREVASSE, UNROPED, PUBLIC ON GLACIER

Alberta, Rocky Mountains, Athabasca Glacier

July 25, 1990, was a warm, sunny day, as a family of four from Calgary, Alberta, stopped at the Columbia Icefields in Jasper National Park and took a walk on the Athabasca Glacier. The oldest child, Tyson (10), was lightly dressed. About 1700, he ran out ahead of his parents and disappeared; he had slipped and fallen into a tapering crack and become wedged about three meters from the surface. His father ran for assistance and located a guided walking tour on the ice. The group leader returned to the crevasse with the father, set two ice screws as an anchor, and lowered himself. Being larger than the boy, he could not descend quite as far as him, but was able to secure a rope onto one of his ankles. Returning to the surface, the guide attempted, with the father, to pull the boy out, but the pressures involved caused Tyson to scream in pain, so this method of extrication was abandoned.

Park wardens were contacted at 1730, and the boy was removed, unconscious, from the crevasse, at 1848. Continuous resuscitation efforts at the scene, and later advanced life support, were unable to revive him. He was pronounced dead at 0200 the following morning.

Analysis

Hundreds of carefree tourists walk past warning signs at the toe of this glacier every year, and wander around on the surface of the ice without incident. To the general public it seems to be a straightforward and harmless activity requiring no special equipment or expertise, but a simple slip on the ice is all that was necessary to turn the natural exuberance of a child into a family tragedy. (Source: Clair Israelson, Canadian Parks Service)

(Editors Note: This accident is not included in the data, but a discussion of how it could have been prevented quickly becomes a philosophic debate on individual rights and responsibilities, and the purposes of a National Park. It seems that when visitors ignore warning signs, they take on themselves the responsibility for their own safety. In Jasper National Park, which contains innumerable hazards, the only practical alternative to warning signs and notices might be to close the entire park to visitors. If closure cannot be considered, then visitors will have to be more careful.)

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