On December 14, 2022, Thomas Elbrecht was backcountry skiing with his dog in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah when he heard 35-year-old Travis Haussener calling for help. A 200-foot wide, 2 foot-deep avalanche avalanche caught him, covering his everything but his head and one arm. Elbrecht heard the calls and found the man, helping to save his life.
Now Elbrecht, a Unified Fire Authority firefighter, is set to receive the Carnegie Medal, the highest honor for civilian heroism in North America. Each recipient will receive a financial grant, with nearly $45 million being given out since Andrew Carnegie established the Carnegie Hero Fund 119 years ago.
Upon hearing the calls, Elbrecht followed Haussener’s tracks to the bottom of the avalanche debris. He then hiked up to the man and managed to dig him out of the snow. Due to multiple major injuries, including a broken thighbone, Haussener was unable to return to safety, and Elbrecht couldn’t move him alone. Instead, Elbrecht called for the authorities and alerted them to his position, created a makeshift splint with a ski pole to stabilize Haussener’s leg, and built a small shelter to protect the injured man from the cold.
Over the next several hours, Elbrecht stayed with the injured Haussener. He kept the man dry and warm, swapping out wet clothes for dry spares. A responding rescue helicopter was unable to land because the slope was too steep and the trees were too dense, but a ground crew of two rescue personnel eventually found the duo. More than seven hours after initially being found, Haussener, with the help of Elbrecht, was moved to a toboggan, then to a snowmobile, and finally to an ambulance. Haussener spent several days in the hospital, but was okay in the long run.
It’s super awesome to see this kind of effort awarded. If anyone deserves recognition, it’s people like Thomas Elbrecht.
Image Credit: Unified Fire Authority via Facebook