Skier, 12, burrows in snow to survive cold night

February 23, 1993|By New York Daily News

A plucky 12-year-old who survived an overnight ski ordeal in subzero cold by burrowing into a snow bank was recuperating in a Vermont hospital.

Joseph Mastriano, rescued after what was said to be one of the most extensive searches in Vermont history, suffered frostbitten feet but was "very lucky to be alive," officials at Rutland Regional Medical Center said yesterday.

Joseph, of Brooklyn, N.Y., became lost Saturday after skiing off the Juggernaut trail at Killington Ski Area, apparently following the tracks of three Milford, Conn., teen-agers who were rescued from the mountain the previous night.

Because Joseph was an experienced skier, his mother initially was not alarmed when he did not immediately meet up with family members at the bottom of the slope, officials said.

But by Saturday afternoon the boy had not appeared at the family's ski condo, and his mother filed a missing-person report.

Dozens of ski patrol rescuers, state troopers and K-9 corps members combed the 5,000-acre ski area through the night and into the morning as police helicopters and a Civil Air Patrol plane searched overhead without finding a trace of the missing youngster.

Then, Sunday morning, dog handler Mike Howard, a volunteer from New Hampshire, spotted a ski pole in the snow. He reported the find by radio, and the pole was identified as belonging to the missing youth.

Leo Denis, 53, manager of the Killington ski department, and another skier followed the trail downhill.

"I found a pair of goggles," Mr. Denis said. "They belonged to the lost boy."

About 20 minutes later, Mr. Denis saw the youngster. "He was sitting in the snow on the side of the hill, and he hollered to us," Mr. Denis said. "He had survived the night by digging a pit in the snow."

Mr. Denis said the snow was about 4 feet deep, and the temperature overnight dropped to "about 5 or 10 below." By insulating himself in the snow pit, Joseph raised the temperature around him to nearly 32 degrees, National Weather Service experts said.

Joseph was "alert and in surprisingly good shape," said Denis. "He was really glad to see us. He is a pretty lucky boy. There was a snowstorm brewing that would have obliterated his trail. We might never have found him."

The rescuers hauled the young skier out on a sled and put him in a rescue vehicle, where he was bundled in a warm sleeping bag. They fed him hot liquids and sped him to the hospital.

Killington spokeswoman Barbara Johnston said the search was "the most massive ever" at the resort and one of the biggest in state history.

Johnston said the 10-mile Juggernaut trail was clearly marked with signs warning skiers not to leave the trail. "It is very easy to get lost if you get off the trails," she said. "It is real wilderness out there."

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