Whether you’re young, old, or just plain inexperienced, there’s a spot for you on the ski slopes. People can’t resist the rush of adrenaline that comes from gliding down a mountainside. Though with a twitch of your foot, you can end up eating snow — and that’s really a best-case scenario.
You ski and snowboard accepting the potential risk of a sports injury. Putting your life on the line before you even make it to the top of the mountain, however, isn’t part of the agreement. A little boy in North Vancouver was ready to spend a day skiing with his dad until a split-second moment threatened to knock him out cold.
It was a quarter to four in the afternoon on Grouse Mountain, and the slopes were packed with people. With bundled up groups milling about and skiers gliding in every direction, it was easy to let something slip by unnoticed.
Breaking through the hustle and bustle of the mountain ripped a terrified scream. Everybody’s hat-covered heads snapped in the same direction, searching for the source of the sound. They needn’t look far — they just had to look up.
CTV News Vancouver
From one of the highest sections of the chair lift, dangled a child. He clung to his father’s hands, though from his position he was unable to pull his son to safety. So the dad did what he could — he filled his lungs and screamed for help.
Carolina Akoglu was also riding the ski lift up the mountain when the boy slipped from his seat. Her stomach wrenched watching the boy, his father and sibling helpless in their chair, scrambling to do anything to avoid an icy drop and serious injury.
The father, Carolina remembered, was shouting for the operator to stop the lift, but it was no use. His yells were drowned out by the music blaring through the lift speakers. So the chair kept inching forward while the boy tried to maintain his grip.
A group of teenagers noticed the scene unraveling in the sky above and they knew if they didn’t do something to help, it might be too late. No ski patrol vehicles were in sight. It was up to them.
For how easy it is to end up in a precarious position on the ski lift, getting injured on one is actually rare. According to the National Ski Areas Association, in the 44 years they’ve observed lift accidents, there were 13 deaths, and just one occurred after 1993.
Ski lift mishaps are rare, not unheard of. At Sasquatch Mountain Resort in British Columbia, in January 2019, an almost identical situation unfolded: another young boy found himself suspended in mid-air hanging from the moving chair lift.
Fellow skier Steve Perry spotted the boy and alerted the lift operator, who quickly shut it down. In an interview with Global News, he said “It was actually pretty impressive. I’d say within three to four minutes, there was probably four to five ski patrol there.”
Falling from great heights isn’t the only risky business associated with ski lifts. At the very same resort in 2017, the dopes on the slopes that day were put through a scary ordeal when a power surge brought the chair lift to a screeching halt.
In total, 120 people were stranded in the icy air while resort employees worked to get them down. Three hours in the frigid temperatures later, they were able to get the lift moving again to return everyone safely to the ground.
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Back on Grouse Mountain, the boy’s strength was the only thing keeping him from plummeting to a snowy crash, one of the teens, James MacDonald, turned to the woman next to him and said, “He’s not going to be able to hang on for much longer.”
The Good Son / Twentieth Century Fox
With the help of his buddies, Joshua Ravensbergen, Gabriel Neilson, Ethan Harvey, and Sam North, James searched for any object within reach that could withstand the force of a body dropping over 20 feet through the air.
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The best they managed was a nearby section of out-of-bounds netting. Another bystander clocked the situation and ran to help. For extra cushioning, they took safety padding that encased a pole on, then slapped it on top of the net, mimicking a firefighter rescue.
Culver City Firefighters
Peter Pian and Danielle McKinney also sprang into action to assist in the rescue, moving without thought because there wasn’t any time for second-guessing. The boy was visibly frightened, flailing his limbs, unable to hold on much longer.
They stood with the makeshift net outstretched beneath him. All they could do was hope that their plan wouldn’t fail. It was time to let go, but a cautionary thought occurred to James. What about the skis fastened to the boy’s feet?
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For a 13-year-old kid, James showed wisdom beyond his years when he adopted the calmest demeanor possible to instruct the boy to kick off his skis. Despite his panic, he followed suit. With a bit of wriggling, one ski fell, and then the next.
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In a moment that will stick with them forever, the father told his son this was time to trust that it would all be okay. With a final shout of confirmation from the father, they released hands and the boy dropped.
The tug of the net told the rescuers they’d pulled it off. He’d landed safely in the center and judging from his speechlessness, he appeared totally stunned to be there. After his brush with death, the boy earned hugs from his parents and several mugs of cocoa.
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Besides being slightly shaken, the boy walked away without injury, but maybe a reluctance to head to the slopes for a few years. They say practice makes perfect, and with a sport like skiing, repetition brings confidence — which can backfire.
Confident skier Anna Bagenholm was born and raised in Sweden back in 1970. A young woman with dreams of becoming an orthopedic surgeon, she later decided to do her residency in Narvik, Norway. Moving there would change her life in more ways than one.
By May of 1999, she’d earned a position as a surgical assistant at Narvik hospital, and had been working there for a year. To celebrate, she and two of her colleagues hit the slopes and spend their day-off skiing on a familiar mountainside.
Perhaps it was because Anna knew the slopes so well (although she hadn’t skied on them since the year before) that she felt confident and didn’t pay close to attention to where she twisted and turned.
Unfortunately, Anna quickly lost control of her skis. She veered off the side of the slope and fell headfirst onto a layer of ice on a frozen stream near a waterfall, landing on her back, which created a hole in the ice…
…That Anna immediately sunk into. The freezing water enveloped her beneath ice that was 8 inches thick, and when he friend’s arrived at the scene, they saw only her skis.
Each grabbing a leg, they tried pulling Anna out. After seven minutes of struggling, when they still couldn’t get her head above the surface, they turned to their cellphones for help.
They waited and waited, holding onto Anna’s legs and skis so she wouldn’t slip under the ice completely. Meanwhile, Anna had found a little air pocket that allowed her to breathe. Time was running out rapidly.
After 40 minutes, she lost consciousness due to circulatory arrest, and it wasn’t until 7:40 pm that the rescue team was able to pull her out and perform CPR on her. By that time, she had been in the freezing cold water for 80 minutes.
When she was lifted into the helicopter, her pupils were dilated, her blood was not circulating, and she wasn’t breathing. The emergency team continued CPR and oxygen ventilation during the flight, but they didn’t arrive at the hospital until 9:10 pm.
There, Dr. Mads Gilbert, an anesthesiologist and the chief of the hospital’s emergency room, tried resuscitating her. He had his work cut out for him: her body temperature was the lowest ever recorded at 56.7°F. (The average is 98.6°F).
Dr. Gilbert commented on Anna’s state: “She has completely dilated pupils. She is ashen, flaxen white. She’s wet. She’s ice cold when I touch her skin, and she looks absolutely dead.” But, he wouldn’t declare her so until her body was warm.
Hundreds of doctors and nurses worked tirelessly for over nine hours to bring her back to life. At 9:40 pm, she was hooked up to a machine that warmed her blood outside of her body. At 10:15, her first heartbeat was recorded.
On May 30th, she finally woke up, but not to a speedy or easy recovery. In fact, she was paralyzed from the neck down and was angry with her colleagues for rescuing her. “I feared a meaningless life, without any dignity,” she said.
Miraculously, her dignity didn’t remain a question for long. As time passed, she overcame her paralysis, but not without worries. She remained in the ICU because her kidneys were malfunctioning.
Dr. Steen at the National Hospital in Oslo said it was “an extraordinary medical achievement.” He theorized that she recovered because her metabolism slowed so much in the cold water that her body needed less oxygen.
Despite everything Anna had been through, she suffered no brain damage, which Dr. Gilbert said was likely due to the extensive CPR she had received. She returned to work in October that year, ready to meet the doctors and nurses who saved her life.
“When you are a patient, you’re not thinking you are going to die. You think ‘I’m going to make it.’ But as a medical person, I think it’s amazing that I’m alive,” Anna explained. Only minor symptoms of neural damage in her hands and feet remained.
These days, Anna is not only a case study but a certified surgeon, and amazingly, she still hits the slopes. She is living, skiing proof that even when a lot of time has gone by, with the right conditions, survival is still an option. Just like another woman living half a world away…
Angela lived in Oregon, but she missed her family down in Southern California. One weekend in July, she decided it would be nice to visit them. It was almost the last choice she ever made.
It was a beautiful day when she set out from Portland in her white Jeep Patriot. Angela had only the hundreds and hundreds of miles of highway ahead to keep her company.
Facebook / Angela Hernandez
It was a long drive, but at least the trip would offer some breathtaking views along the way. Angela could put her camera to good use!
Facebook / Angela Hernandez
The most beautiful — and dangerous — part of the drive came when Angela passed through the Big Sur. The highway ran right along the California coast, with the Pacific Ocean only a cliffside away.
Angela only remembered fragments of what happened next. The only thing that’s clear was that a small animal darted out into the middle of the winding road. She swerved to avoid it.
She lost consciousness as her car tore through the guardrail and plummeted 250 feet to the ocean below. It began to sink. Could anyone survive such a crash?
When Angela awoke, water already filled up her vehicle up to her knees, and its level was rising. She grabbed a multi-tool she kept inside, smashed through the side window, and crawled out to the beach.
Bloody and battered, she rolled over on the shore. She sustained injuries all over her body, and her shoes were missing. Her feet ached as she clambered up the rocks to escape the incoming tide and get some rest.
Once Angela got her bearings, she saw that there was no way back up to the highway, or even a clear path along the beach. She needed to signal for help, but first, she had more pressing needs.
Incredible thirst overtook her, so Angela rummaged through her washed-up car for supplies. She came across a black hose that had fallen out and figured it could be useful.
Flickr / DSherland
She then found a mossy rock on the cliffside that dropped a bead of water every couple seconds. Angela attached one end of the hose to the rock and drank.
Angela spent hours trying to flag down a car from the road above, but she was too far down and the cars were going too fast. Days passed by…
Of course, police were searching for Angela after her family reported that she never showed up. But with so much ground to cover along the California coast it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
The week after the crash, Chad and Chelsea Moore were hiking along the coast when they noticed something strange at the base of the cliff. It appeared to be a wrecked car. They found their way down to the beach to investigate.
Chad and Chelsea were busy gathering items that must have come from the car when they heard a cry for help. They ran over to some nearby rocks where they found Angela. Though weak, she was still alive.
Cell service wasn’t great in the Big Sur, but Chad and Chelsea were, fortunately, able to reach emergency services. They stayed with her and did what they could until a medical team arrived.
After first responders airlifted Angela to a nearby hospital, they worked to haul the debris up the cliff by crane. Although the first cable snapped, they managed to lift the Jeep back up.
All told, Angela endured a brain hemorrhage, four broken ribs, a shattered collarbone, a collapsed lung, and ruptured blood vessels in both eyes. Lucky for her, she made a full recovery.
Angela now feels like she has a new lease on life, and she’s held on to various items from her car to remind herself how blessed she is. Not many other people would have survived the crash, let alone lasted on the beach for a week after.
Facebook / Angela Hernandez
Angela says that the incident convinced her that there is indeed a bigger purpose in her life. She makes sure to savor every moment and spend as much time possible with the ones she loves.