Airbag backpack saves skier and makes news

Photo credit: ABS Avalanche Airbag

Photo credit: ABS Avalanche Airbag

A new safety tool – this ABS Avalanche Airbag Backpack – fulfilled its ultimate job of saving a life.

Three skiers died in a backcountry avalanche in Washington State, but a fourth – Elyse Saugstad – survived. She credits the airbag for saving her life.

How does it work?

I found a good explanation from Doug Abromeit, former director of the Forest Services National Avalanche Center. He spoke about the airbag for this National Public Radio story Science Behind Avalanche ‘Air Bag’ Saves Skier.

“If a person gets caught in an avalanche, it’s got a ripcord like a skydiver has a ripcord for his parachute and they pull that and then it inflates an airbag that goes around the person’s head, which protects their head and their neck, and then it provides floatation so the person stays on top of the avalanche debris,” reads the NPR radio transcript of Doug’s interview.

“They can just ride down on the avalanche and, nine times out of 10, they’re on the surface of the avalanche debris when it comes to rest.”

Talking on Twitter and Facebook

People shared links to info on this safety success on Twitter. For example, @TahoeMtnSports gave it a shout-out on Twitter and wrote a blog post about it – inlcuding these stats from the manufacturer: of 267 persons who activated an ABS avalanche airbag, 97 percent survived, and 84 percent were uninjured.

Another person tweeted: “Sad to hear about all the avalanche deaths in WA over the weekend. Making me think harder and harder about buying an ABS pack.”

On Facebook, people were also talking about this new technology – saying they hadn’t known it existed.

“I really doubt I’m the only one who didn’t know this system was available these days. After reading about the horrible event… I personally wanted to find out more about the backpack system. Found the website, read every piece of text about the system and now here on FB looking for customer comments etc.” said one person who posted on the ABS Facebook page.

Another wrote: “Making money by saving lives is cool! I was up in the Cascades this weekend but didn’t go out of bounds. Next time I do though, I am happy to know about the ABS option. Elyse not only saved her life with ABS, she may very well save others due to this tragic story spreading the word about ABS. I had never about such an option before!”

Personally, it terrifies me to think about “going out of bounds” on a ski hill, and I really hope this technology doesn’t encourage more people who wouldn’t otherwise try it. They could still fall off a cliff or get lost!

Here’s a video – posted on Twitter by @WorkSafeBC – showing the airbag backpack in action.


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