Everyone was too busy to talk to me when I arrived, but it was easy to piece together the chain of events. The woman they were working on was lying face up in the snow, next to a tree. The snowmobile was turned over on its side, ahead of her on the trail. A man’s body lay next to it, his face covered with a dirty t-shirt, blood and bits of gore staining the snow around his head. His hands were folded peacefully across his stomach, and a wedding band strained one pudgy finger. We’d arrived too late with the oxygen, Travis and I, despite our white-knuckled snowmobile ascent up to the site. I hoped the wrong turn and resultant detour we’d taken wasn’t a factor.
Dave, Brian and Shawn huddled around the woman, traction splinting what looked like a bad femur fracture.
“Anna, can you find us some latex gloves? We’ve run out,” Shawn called over to me. Having little first aid experience, I was grateful for a job. SAR medical packs were scattered along the trail and I ran from pack to pack, looking unsuccessfully for gloves. Finally, I put on my ski gloves, and jumped in to help package the woman for the Flight for Life helicopter.
The woman moaned softly as we shifted her body to get a hypo bag around her.
“Sorry, Karen, we should be done in a minute,” Brian told her. She was a big woman, probably over 200 pounds, and looked about 50 years old. I noticed a Texas accent when she gave a terse answer to someone’s question about drug allergies.
A Flights paramedic arrived and took over, placing an IV tube in her arm. They gave me the fluid bag to hold up, and I took the opportunity to further survey the scene while I stood over her. The snowmobile tour guide was still there, looking helpless, and another man that I sensed to be the company’s owner. I’d heard the guide had done CPR on the man for over half an hour, despite severe head injuries that left the man’s face literally bashed in. Behind us, off the side of the trail were two teenaged girls sitting on snowmobiles. They both had the dazed look of someone in shock. Had they seen the crash, I wondered? Other bystanders waited near the girls, but I couldn’t tell who they were. Tiger Run staff, I supposed—surely they wouldn’t allow other members of the tour to stay here.
“Karen, we’re going to put you on a backboard now,” the Flights nurse said. “This may hurt for a minute, but we need to do it.” Karen began to moan even before we rolled her body up.
“Where’s my husband?” she asked us.
“Let’s not worry about him right now, let’s just worry about you,” Brian told her. “He’s right behind you.”
From where she was lying, she couldn’t see him, I realized. Who would tell her? And when?
When the Flights crew had left with the woman, towing her behind a snowmobile to the helicopter waiting below in a meadow, we pulled out a body bag and began to clean up. I had never touched a dead body before. Curiously, I didn’t feel anything.
A US Forest Service Ranger had arrived and begun taking pictures. Someone asked her for her assessment.
“Well, I’m no expert, I just take pictures” she laughed. “But it looks to me like the sled went off the trail and hooked a ski around that tree. Then maybe the driver got rattled and gunned the gas instead of hitting the brake. He hit the tree with his head, and she hit it with her pelvis.” Several people nodded in agreement.
The teenagers had left with their mother, and it seemed OK to talk now. SAR members began talking excitedly about the brutal details of the scene as we scuffed snow over the bloodstains and re-packed our medical kits.
“A piece of her femur was lying in the snow when we got here,” someone told me. “We put it in a bag and sent it with her.”
“What about him?” I asked. “Did he live long after the impact?” I wanted to know about the oxygen. No one could tell me for sure. “Wasn’t he wearing a helmet?” I persisted. Unbelievably, he wasn’t.
We put the body on a trailer behind a snowmobile and loaded up our gear. I rode on Travis’s machine again, grateful that we’d be riding much slower this time. The ride down seemed longer, and our procession took a detour so arriving snowmobile tours wouldn’t see the body. We drove in circles at one point. Travis said, “The guy paid for a day of snowmobiling, and he’s getting a day of snowmobiling.” It seemed OK to laugh.
The paper the next day said the teenagers had not witnessed the accident. I wondered if that was good. But Glen told us at the next meeting that Karen was not doing well at Saint Anthony’s. She had fractured her pelvis as well as her femur, and damaged her spleen. They could not stabilize her enough for surgery.
The coroner’s report stated that the man had died on impact. Travis and I were absolved.
I wonder who finally told her.