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Helmet video captures Colorado college students rescuing dog buried in avalanche

Posted at 7:32 AM, Jan 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-03 09:32:44-05

Bobby White and Josh Trujillo were backcountry skiing the popular Berthoud Pass area in Colorado when they saw a cloud of snow erupt -- a sign of an avalanche occurring -- at least a thousand feet away.

While White rushed to put his splitboard back together, Trujillo was able to immediately ski over to the avalanche debris where he encountered another group, the two students at Colorado School of Mines told ABC News in a phone interview.

Every person was accounted for, but a dog had been caught and buried in a debris field Trujillo described as 300 yards long and 50 yards wide.

According to a preliminary report of the Dec. 26 events written by the dog's owner and sent to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, his group had accidentally veered off course and stopped just above steeper terrain susceptible to avalanches. The dog, named Apollo, according to Trujillo, ran away from the owner above a steep, rocky slope, triggered the avalanche and was swept over the cliff and through several trees before disappearing into the sea of snow.

The dog's owner climbed down the chute and into the path of the slide to begin the search, according to his report. That's when he saw Trujillo. Told by the owner it was only the dog caught in the slide, Trujillo and White took out their avalanche beacons anyway and scanned the area in case an unseen skier had been caught.

Once they realized there were no buried humans, their search for the dog began. Using their probe poles, which are typically around 8-feet-long, they poked through the snow hoping to strike the buried dog.

"Needle in a haystack," White is heard exclaiming in his helmet video recording the frantic search.

The dog's owner was also searching, but higher up in the debris field.

"Where did you see him last?" White yelled to the owner.

"Way at the top," he responded.

Trujillo, White and Apollo's owner continued the searched for 20 minutes. According to the Utah Avalanche Center, 93% of human avalanche victims can be recovered alive if they are dug out within 15 minutes.

"But then the numbers drop catastrophically," its website says, going down to only 20-30% after 45 minutes.

Trujillo and White had decided that morning to avoid avalanche-prone slopes due to the "high" danger rating of the snowpack that day determined by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. But the search placed them right below a threatening ridge.

"I think we need to get out of here," White tells Trujillo in the helmet video. "That dog is dead. This is why I don't like dogs in avalanche terrain to begin with. We're all like probing underneath the worst avalanche terrain in Berthoud right now."

But just two minutes later, as Josh is retrieving his ski poles to pack up, he spots a nose sticking out of the snow and yells out.

"I found him! I found him, I found him, I found him," he shouts. "I can see him. He's still alive."

Trujillo yells up to the dog's owner, and the two begin vigorously digging. A third passerby appears, having heard the commotion, and starts digging, too.

"We're coming, buddy," White says to Apollo between exhausted breaths.

After about a minute of digging, the dog wiggles free and leaps out of the snow with no signs of trauma other than a limp.

"You OK, buddy? A little scared?" White says to the dog as it runs off under his own power.

"Ahh buddy!" the dog's owner is heard exclaiming off camera.

White told ABC News the dog appeared to be fine other than an injured leg.

When asked what his takeaway from the day was, Trujillo told ABC News that he and White plan to continue to educate themselves on avalanche safety. They plan to "avoid dangerous spots on crowded days because we were very smart about our day and still got put in danger due to circumstances beyond our control."

"Also, no dogs in the backcountry," Trujillo said.

Robert said he had bought the GoPro that recorded the rescue the day before.

As for Apollo's owner, he thanked the two young men profusely, calling them "my heroes," White said.

The dog's owner did not respond to ABC News' request for an interview. White and Trujillo wish to thank the anonymous Good Samaritan who helped them dig Apollo out.