Skip to main Content

Dramatic rescue saves teenager trapped in glacier crevasse

  • Author: Lee Revis
  • Updated: September 29, 2016
  • Published July 5, 2012

VALDEZ -- Members of the Valdez Fire Department last weekend rescued a 16-year-old tourist from Connecticut who fell into a crevasse near the top of Worthington Glacier.

The victim, Kurt Shenher, is said to be in guarded condition at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage after he was flown from Providence Valdez Medical Center, suffering from hypothermia and other, unspecified injuries.

Shenher fell into the crevasse on Saturday after he and his 15-year-old brother, Troy, took a leisurely climb up the face of the glacier wearing street clothes.

"They walked up," the hikers' grandmother said at the scene shortly after the first team of rescuers, consisting of Josh Larsen, Mike Weber, Jennifer Weber and Shenher's grandfather -- found the victim.

Shenher had fallen at least 50 feet down a crevasse, where his 6-foot-5-inch frame wedged between the walls of ice. During the fall, much of the victim's inadequate clothing was ripped from his body, leaving him with what was described as "skin on ice" for nearly five hours.

"This young man could have lost his life quite easily on a fall like this," Jennifer Weber said in an interview Monday afternoon.

Weber said the first team used cellphone cameras to take pictures of the area in which the brother believed the fall had taken place and began the climb up the glacier.

"As we got higher up on the glacier we could see footprints in the snow," she said. The team followed them until it reached a crevasse field. "At one point we couldn't see anything."

When the tracks disappeared, the team simply began calling out to the victim. Fortunately, the victim was conscious and able to respond, helping the team pinpoint his location down one of many crevasses.

"We rigged up a rope system," Weber said "We lowered in Capt. (Mike) Weber into the crevasse."

Shenher was wedged in tight and it took a bit of manipulating before rescuers were able to pull him out of the crevasse.

"It was very cold and wet down there," Weber said, but it still proved difficult to extract Shenher, who was in obvious distress. "We moved him a bit but he was pretty stuck."

Meanwhile, a second team of Valdez responders were scaling the glacier while an Alyeska helicopter from the Copper Basin waited near the scene of the rescue.

The two rescue teams, made up of employees and volunteers of the Valdez Fire Department and its specialized rescue squad, rigged a series of ropes totaling 800 feet to lower the victim, who was strapped into a rescue sled.

"We lowered him approximately 2,400 feet to the waiting helicopter," Weber said, noting the team could not move their patient down in a straight line due to the geography of the glacier.

Weather in Valdez prevented the helicopter from transporting Shenher directly to Valdez so the patient was transferred to an ambulance waiting at the base of the glacier, and he was driven to the hospital.

Shenher, suffering from severe hypothermia, was later flown to Anchorage.

While the rescue was successful, some people are questioning if the incident could have been avoided completely or if the rescue would have happened sooner if an attendant had been present.

Last May, the Valdez City Council passed a resolution urging Alaska State Parks to restore funding to pay for an attendant at the glacier, which is outside the city limits of Valdez. The council's resolution carried no legal authority but acted as a political message to state officials.

Nell Clayton ran a small bookstore and visitor center at the glacier for 11 years at a cost of less than $10,000.

"She knows what resources we have down here," George Keeney, Valdez fire chief, said after the rescue.

She also had access to a working telephone. Clayton also urged visitors who are inexperienced and ill-equipped for a climb to avoid walking on the glacier.

There was no cellphone coverage on the glacier and the first call for help came from a satellite phone serviced by Matcom, which is based in the Mat-Su Borough.


The Valdez Star