2 state workers hurt during avalanche mitigation on Loveland Pass Monday morning

CLEAR CREEK, Colo. - One state employee injured on Monday during an avalanche mitigation operation is still in serious condition and will be operated on Tuesday.

Two state employees working on avalanche mitigation on Loveland Pass were hurt Monday morning after an avalanche shell exploded in the device that launches the ordnance.

The accident happened around 7:09 a.m. at an area known as the Seven Sisters, said Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Tony DeVito. That's on the east side of the pass, known for its steep chasms filled with snow and ice.

The two workers -- one with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and the other, a 20-year veteran with the Colorado Department of Transportation -- were transported to St. Anthony Hospital.

The CAIC worker is in fair condition and the CDOT worker, who is from Dillon, is in serious condition, DeVito said.

A third worker -- who is part of the three-man crew -- was not hurt but is shaken up.

Devito said the device, which utilizes compressed gas, is mounted on a one-ton pickup truck.  Crews load the small, several-pound explosive into the Avalauncher device and once the explosive is launched the trigger detonates upon impact. For reasons under investigation, the device detonated prematurely inside the chamber of the Avalauncher.

This occurred during the 18th shot of the morning, one of the last or near-last shots for their shift, DeVito said.

As protocol, the men had been standing about 20-30 feet away from the device, behind a pickup truck, when it exploded, causing shrapnel-type injuries to their upper bodies.

"When it exploded, obviously it does release a lot of shrapnel, both from the projectile and from the gun," DeVito said. "We have numerous safety precautions on where employees are to stand. So they were partially protected by vehicles. We set up an L, always, with our vehicles, and they stand in a certain, set formation as part of their training."

The men were conscious and talking when paramedics arrived and rendered first aid. They were transported to the hospital by ground because the windy conditions made it difficult to airlift them.

DeVito said the Avalauncher has been in use for almost 30 years by CDOT and there's never been an accident before.

This particular Avalauncher has been used for the past 8 years, firing over 800 rounds this avalanche season alone, CDOT said.

CDOT is currently on a statewide stand down of the Avalauncher, but for the safety of the traveling public other methods of avalanche reduction will continue.

CDOT regularly monitors 278 of the 522 known avalanche paths in Colorado.

The avalanche crews are comprised of CDOT workers and CAIC employees. CAIC employees are there to assess where to launch the explosive to cause  a pre-planned avalanche and monitor how effective each blast was.  Each member of all avalanche mitigation crews attend extensive, week long explosives training every fall in addition to avalanche safety training that is also completed yearly, DeVito explained. The equipment used is also inspected annually, he added.

The names of the men are not being released at this time, DeVito said. Their families are at the hospital by their side.

Loveland Pass remains closed. The upper portion of Loveland Ski Area is also closed because U.S. Highway 6 is also closed due to the accident.

An investigation was previously being completed by the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Department along with CDOT, but has was turned over to the Colorado Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Tuesday.


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