Snowmachiner dead after group gets caught in avalanche near Whittier

An Anchorage man died after an avalanche struck a group of snowmachiners Wednesday at Blackstone Glacier near Whittier, authorities say.

Chad Christman, 41, was declared dead Wednesday, according to Alaska State Troopers. Christman was the only person in the large group taken to the hospital.

The avalanche occurred on the glacier about 9 miles southwest of Whittier and just west of the southern tip of Blackstone Bay, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said in a release Thursday.

Two people said they watched their friend Christman get covered by an avalanche while they were riding in the area, Peters said. When the avalanche stopped, Christman was only partially buried.

The two men and other people in the area dug him out and started CPR, she said.

When rescuers arrived, CPR was underway, Alaska National Guard spokeswoman Candis Olmstead said in an email.

A large group of 16 or 17 snowmachiners were on the glacier when six were caught in the avalanche, Olmstead said. Five escaped.


Troopers were notified of the avalanche just after 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Peters said.

They contacted the Rescue Coordination Center, which requested support from the Air National Guard, Olmstead said. An HC-130J Combat King II, and HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter and pararescuemen departed Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson around 5 p.m.

Crews arriving at 4,800 feet on the glacier found a landing area stamped into the snow by the snowmachiners, Olmstead said.

Christman was taken to Providence Alaska Medical Center. He did not survive his injuries.

Avalanche forecasters say they are still investigating what happened at the remote glacier, where it's likely fresh snow had fallen but conditions weren't yet known.

The Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center is developing a preliminary report on the incident for release by Friday, forecaster Wendy Wagner said Thursday morning.

The center wrapped up official operations at the end of April, Wagner said. "But what I can say is there has been quite a lot of snow at the upper elevations over the past several weeks with the stormy weather that we had over the last half of April."

The center's website includes a long list of precautions skiers and snowmachiners should take during the unpredictable spring snow season.

Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.