EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. – The three people who were killed in an avalanche while backcountry skiing in the San Juan Mountains on Monday were identified as three government officials from Eagle County.
Seth Bossung, energy efficiency project manager for Eagle County; Andy Jessen, Mayor Pro Tem for the Town of Eagle; and Adam Palmer, sustainable communities director for Eagle County, were named as the victims in a large avalanche that was triggered between Silverton and Ophir.
“Our hearts are heavy with the loss of these three men. Their contributions through their work in local government and local businesses, as well as their personal passions and their impact on the friends and family members they leave behind, have helped shape the community in ways that will be forever lasting,” Eagle County officials said in a joint statement Wednesday afternoon.
Town and county officials said that while an official announcement has not been made by the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, the families of the three men shared their names “so we can all openly acknowledge their deaths and grieve together.”
“The strength of our community is rooted in our shared love for this place and the people who live here. Andy, Adam and Seth exemplified this every day. Please find ways to come together safely and share your stories of them and others. We will do the same,” they wrote.
Eagle Mayor Scott Turnipseed held a news conference Wednesday afternoon to discuss the loss of the three men, whom he said he knew quite well from their time in government and architecture.
Nearly 100 people attended the virtual news conference, which Turnipseed said “just gives me an indication of how this has affected so many people not only locally, but regionally.”
Turnipseed read the joint statement released by the town and county earlier Wednesday, struggling through tears.
“This is very, very tough for me to be in the position I’m in right now, relaying this information to everyone. But I felt very strongly we needed to do this,” he said.
He asked for the town and county to come together as they always do to support the families of the three men but to also respect their privacy. He said the community would come together to mourn when possible but said grieving together would be more difficult because of COVID-19.
Turnipseed described Jessen as a “forward thinker and great guy” whom he said he would “deeply, deeply miss” on the town council, where Jessen had been for four years.
He said he’d spent years working to convince Palmer to join the town council before he was elected last spring and called Palmer “a great person” with whom he spent a great deal of time.
Bossung was a fellow architect who Turnipseed had gotten to know well through that industry. He described him as “just a kind, kind person.”
“I’m sorry I broke down. I just want everyone to know there’s a very personal connection here,” Turnipseed said. “Our entire hears – all of everybody in town – goes out to their families, their friends, their loved ones. We’re here for them.”
The San Juan County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday evening the search for the missing skiers is officially a recovery effort. Officials know where the bodies are located but said it will be "quite an effort" to extract them.
Eagle County officials said Wednesday afternoon they were still awaiting formal notification from San Juan County that the bodies had been recovered.
DeAnne Gallegos, with the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management, told Denver7 she expected the recovery effort to continue into Thursday, as poor weather conditions and continued avalanche danger remained.
"The three missing skiers have been located. They were wearing beacons. It is a matter of the depth of the avalanche in the accident scene, the terrain, and then we are experiencing natural avalanches running around the accident zone," Gallegos said.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said Tuesday morning that seven people was traveling in an area known as The Nose around Middle Fork Mineral Creek.
In total, four people were caught, carried and fully buried in debris. One person was located and had minor injuries. Three others were still missing as of Tuesday, CAIC said.
Search and rescue operations began Monday at 5:20 p.m. and lasted through the night into Tuesday morning.
The avalanche released on a northeast-facing slope at 11,500 feet, which is around treeline.
On Tuesday morning, a Helitrax helicopter was performing avalanche mitigation in the area so rescue operations could resume.
Avalanche danger in the backcountry is listed as "considerable" in most of the state's central and southern mountains. Click here to check the avalanche forecast before exploring the backcountry.