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67-year-old Olalla man dies after accident at Crystal Mountain

Post by Craig Hill / The News Tribune on Jan. 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
January 28, 2011 8:35 pm

The unedited version of a story that will appear in tomorrow’s News Tribune and Olympian:

A 67-year-old Olalla man died Friday, two days after falling while skiing in Crystal Mountain’s new terrain park

Don Burkhart, an avid outdoorsman and expert skier, reportedly severed his spinal cord and was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. A hospital nurse confirmed his death on Friday night.

According to a family friend, the family had been waiting for some relatives to travel to Seattle before removing Burkhart from life support.

Crystal Mountain has not had an inbounds skiing-related fatality in almost eight years.

“Don was a good man and he was very athletic,” said Richard Wheeler, Burkhart’s friend and former skiing partner. “He climbed Mount Rainier and stayed in good shape. He was a husband, a father, a grandfather and a wonderful friend.”

Burkhart was skiing in the terrain park Wednesday morning when he went over a roller and fell, said Paul Baugher, director of Crystal’s ski patrol.

“He landed wrong, fell hard and suffered a catastrophic injury,”  Baugher said.

While he was skiing in the enclosed Sasquatch Jib Park, Burkhart was not using the box and rail features when he fell, Baugher said. The terrain park has no jumps and was built in December on an intermediate run called Mr. Magoo, Baugher said.

A member of the ski patrol was skiing behind Burkhart and was on the scene in less than 30 seconds, Baugher said.

The patroller immediately started CPR on Burkhart and called for help. Emily Johnston, an emergency room doctor who volunteers three days per week on the ski patrol, arrived within five minutes.

“We did not hear the name of the woman doctor who was there,” Wheeler said. “But we heard she made an extraordinary effort to save his life.”

A second doctor was on the scene moments later.

“You would have had to run your car into an abutment at a fire hall to get a quicker medical response,” Baugher said. “Unfortunately with an injury like this, there is not much you can do.”

Wheeler said Burkhart severed his spinal cord and was “paralyzed from the jaw down.”

Baugher said his ski patrol was involved in four life-saving rescues in 2010 including three people caught in backcountry avalanches and a fourth who suffered a heart attack.

“This has cast a real cloud over this place,” Baugher said. “He (Burkhart) was a long-time Crystal skier. It’s very sad.”

Burkhart was born and raised in Bremerton and was retired from the naval shipyard. He is survived by his wife, two daughters and two grandchildren.

The last skiers to die inbounds at Crystal Mountain were in 2007, but neither were skiing related accidents. A 66-year-old man had a heart attack and died while skiing less than three months after a 36-year-old man died of a brain aneurysm.

In 2008, three snowboarders where killed by an avalanche while traveling out of bounds.

The last inbounds fatality came in 2003 when a 44-year-old man was trapped in a tree well. Previously, a 50-year-old Seattle architect was caught in an avalanche and died while skiing on the Exterminator run while it was closed in 2000.  And a woman died after hitting a tree on Christmas Day 1991.

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