(Reuters) – When snow covered the breathing hole Bill Fuzak made after being buried in an avalanche at an Idaho ski resort, the 62-year-old said he felt a surprising sense of calm, and prepared to die.
“I had already relegated myself to the inevitable as I knew the air would not last long,” said Fuzak in a post on a public Facebook page for ski enthusiasts.
Fuzak was one of five people rescued from the avalanche on Tuesday at the Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg. Three others were killed, the last of their bodies recovered on Thursday, the resort said on Facebook.
Fuzak, a retiree who lives near Spokane, Washington, said he was under the snow for 50 minutes, far longer than most avalanche survivors.
He was among a group of skiers who dropped into a newly-opened run after more than 20 inches (51 cms) of snow had fallen in two days.
“After only one or two turns the snow started to fracture above us as well as below us,” said Fuzak. “I heard a female voice over my right shoulder, I think it was Rebecca, say calmly, ‘it’s giving way, try to stay on top.’”
Fuzak lost his left ski almost immediately and fell backwards trying to release his right one.
“While swimming to try and stay on top of the slide it slowed and pulled me down completely under the snow.”
He punched an air hole with his right fist, only to have a second, more powerful slide cover him in feet of snow.
“I’m really surprised how calm I felt but knew there was nothing I could do but wait and pray,” said Fuzak, who was unable to move anything but his right hand to clear his mouth.
The first thing he remembers after regaining consciousness was the sound of rescuers cheering as a ski patroller named Bill held his hand and others dug him out.
He believes another ski patroller, Maya Pardue, found him with her avalanche probe – a collapsible pole around 10 feet (3 meters) long.
He was buried upright, his lips blue, unconscious but breathing.
“I was elated to still be ‘here,’” said Fuzak.
Reporting By Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Lincoln Feast.