Deaths of Three Ski Patrollers Prompt Cal/OSHA Citations

Oct. 11, 2006
The California Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) has issued citations carrying a total of $49,865 in fines to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area as a result of the agency's investigation into the April deaths of three ski patrol employees.

On April 6, Mammoth Mountain ski patrollers James Juarez, 35, and John "Scott" McAndrews, 37 - who were inspecting the mountain after recent heavy snowstorms, according to the ski resort - fell through about 20 feet of snow into a volcanic fumarole, which is a naturally occurring vent that emits steam and gases. A third ski patroller, Charles Rosenthal, 58, then attempted to rescue Juarez and McAndrews.

Juarez, McAndrews and Rosenthal died from lack of oxygen due to the presence of carbon dioxide gas in the fumarole, according to Cal/OSHA.

In all, 20 employees involved in the rescue attempt were treated and released from the Mammoth Mountain Hospital after being checked for potential adverse affect due to oxygen deficiency, according to the agency.

Of the eight violations Cal/OSHA found, two were determined to be accident-related.

"As a result of our investigation, inspectors determined that Mammoth Mountain Ski Area failed to have proper procedures in place to evaluate hazards associated with volcanic fumaroles and failed to provide training to employees performing rescue and medical duties associated with the dangerous fumaroles," Cal/OSHA Acting Chief Len Welsh said. "If standard practices had been followed, this catastrophic event might not have occurred."

Largest Fines Assessed for Alleged Training Issues

The largest of the penalties was $18,000 each for the two serious alleged accident-related violations of Cal/OSHA regulations addressing training issues.

According to Cal/OSHA, the investigation also revealed that the employer failed to properly identify and evaluate the hazards for working near the areas of volcanic fumaroles, which were known to have high levels of carbon dioxide gas. A third serious citation was issued for allegedly not having proper warning signs to indicate a potentially hazardous situation at the location of the fumarole.

In addition to the three serious violations, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area was issued general citations for allegedly not conducting proper internal atmosphere testing, not using proper engineering controls and not providing proper respirators for escape or rescue.

Mammoth Mountain Plans to Appeal

A statement issued by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area called the accident "a tragedy that broke our hearts and one that we will never forget."

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area will appeal the Cal/OSHA citations, the company said.

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