By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer
LYNNWOOD — John Swanson couldn’t quite believe it was real.
Swanson’s dramatic rescue after being buried in an avalanche Sunday near Snoqualmie Pass was captured on video shot by a fellow snowmobiler wearing a helmet camera.
In a matter of days, the clip has gone viral, posted on dozens of websites.
“It all happened so quickly that at the time I didn’t know what was holding my head in the snow, or that my entire body was embedded in the snow,” he said during an interview Tuesday evening.
(Video contains brief profanity.)
“It’s an uneasy feeling to be buried in something you can’t move in at all.”
Nearby snowmobilers rushed to the scene and frantically used shovels and scooped away snow with their hands to help him escape. Once freed, “I stood on top of the avalanche and realized the whole side (of snow) had broken free,” he said.
Swanson was interviewed on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Wednesday morning and is scheduled to fly to New York City for an interview on the network’s “Nightline” today.
Swanson, 37, an avid outdoorsman, said the avalanche occurred about 1 p.m. Sunday, the third and final day of snowmobiling near Stampede Pass. The snow was wet and heavy.
Swanson was riding across a hill, hit a trench and was bucked off his snowmobile. “I ran down after my snowmobile. The snow was so deep, I was hurrying up so I could do it again,” he said.
A snowmobiler was riding behind him. “He and I triggered the avalanche,” said Swanson, who didn’t realize the snowmobiler was riding the avalanche down the hill.
Swanson heard someone yelling at him to try to warn him the rider was coming down the hill directly at him.
“I couldn’t get out of the way,” he said. “I thought the snowmobile was going to run me over, so at the last minute, I dove out of the way.”
Swanson said he doesn’t really remember being hit by the wave of snow. “I didn’t realize until they pulled me out of the snow that’s what had actually occurred,” he said.
As he watches replays of the avalanche and the rescue, Swanson said he’s struck by how hard fellow snowmobilers worked to free him. Some were yelling for shovels, which snowmobilers often carry with them on their rides in the backcountry.
“There was a swarm of four to five people in front of me and several behind me, probably nine guys involved,” he said.
“It took their breath away, whether it was exhaustion from digging or the fact that they’re scared and the adrenaline is thumping,” he said. “They acted quickly, and that’s why I’m talking to you now.”
Swanson said that once he was freed, his first instinct was to get back on his snowmobile.
If the camera could have captured the look on his face, “I probably would have been smiling and saying, ‘Thanks guys, let’s get on with it.’ They were a little more somber. A few of the guys were just standing there still reeling from the aftereffects.
“Everybody was a little dumbfounded and were all waiting to hug me,” he said. “In some respects, every time you watch it, it sinks in a little more.”
Swanson said he’s surprised at the media attention the event has received. His phone began ringing at 2 a.m. Tuesday and he has received dozens of calls since then.
Swanson, his wife, Jamie, and sons John Michael, 13, Brandon, 10, and Matthew, 4, spend many weekends in the outdoors, riding their motorcycles, camping in their motor home, four wheeling, riding their dirt bikes, and, of course, snowmobiling.
He owns a 90-foot boat, Discovery, and works helping run a charter business that takes people fishing, kayaking and whale watching in Alaska. In the boating community, he’s known as Ben.
He said he’s never previously had life-threatening events while pursuing his frequent outdoor adventures. But in 1996, he spent five weeks in a drug-induced coma after suffering burns when a gas can exploded.
Through all his experiences, he said he’s gained both respect and appreciation for nature. “It’s humbling; Mother Nature is powerful and I get to see it on regular occasions as a yachtsman. Big seas. Storms roll in. And the snow is no exception.”
Being in the outdoors leads to unexpected adventures, he said, whether it’s getting stuck in the backcountry or coping with rollovers while snowmobiling.
So one experience of being trapped in an avalanche, unable to move, won’t keep him from the sport.
“I really don’t dwell on it,” he said. “Things happen and you move on.”
Swanson said he had plans to go snowmobiling on Thursday, but instead, he’ll be in New York City for his second national interview.
“Of all the sports, there’s something about snowmobiling that is magical and serene,” he said. “You go places and feel like you’re the first explorer. You hear the snow fall.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.