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DCSO ID’s Bend snowboarder killed in Paulina Peak avalanche, offer details of recovery efforts

(Update: adding video, DCSO names avalanche victim, more info from C.O. Avalanche Center)

La PINE, Ore. (KTVZ) – The Deschutes County Sheriff's Office on Thursday identified a 33-year-old Bend snowboarder who was killed in an avalanche Wednesday afternoon while out with two friends who were skiing at Paulina Peak.

Despite hours of CPR life-saving efforts -- at first detecting a faint pulse -- a rescue effort for Erik Maxim Hefflefinger instead became a lengthy, cautious recovery mission by first responders and Sheriff’s Search and Rescue volunteers.

On Wednesday at 12:48 p.m., the SAR unit was dispatched to a report of an avalanche at Paulina Peak, in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument east of La Pine, Sergeant Jason Wall said.  

The reporting party was the International Emergency Coordination Response Center, which advised Deschutes County 911 dispatchers they had received an SOS alarm from a device and provided GPS coordinates for its location.  

The IERCC coordinates search and rescue services initiated by SOS alerts received from a supported device with an active satellite, cellular or other communication network service plan. 

Six minutes later, the IERCC received a second message from the device, stating there had been an avalanche, a subject was not breathing, and that CPR was in progress, Wall said in a news release. 

The subject caught in the avalanche was later determined to be Erik Hefflefinger, a Bend resident.

According to the two friends/skiers on scene, they witnessed the avalanche from below and saw Hefflefinger being carried over a cliff band by the avalanche debris. Hefflefinger was located by his friends, who were not buried by the avalanche, and immediately started lifesaving efforts. 

The two skiers were identified by Wall as Ian Minsker, 44, and Ari Delashmutt, 34, both of Bend.

Oregon State Police also responded to the area, but were not able to make it to the scene due to snow conditions.

DCSO SAR volunteers were transported by an AirLink helicopter crew to the area and reached Hefflefinger around 4 p.m., Wall said.

The three SAR volunteers, two of whom are trained in advanced life support, began life-saving measures after discovering a faint pulse from Hefflefinger. 

Around 5 p.m., "life-saving measures were discontinued, as it was determined Hefflefinger was beyond help," Wall said.

SAR volunteers assisted with the transportation of Hefflefinger to the 10-Mile Sno-Park, where he was released to a funeral home around 8 p.m.  

Wall said that all three men were equipped with the proper safety equipment, including avalanche safety gear. 

As a result of the investigation, it was determined Hefflefinger possibly hit a tree while caught in the avalanche debris. 

The snowboarder and two skiers had utilized snowmobiles to approach the area below the visitors center and made a final approach, two on skis and one on his snowboard.  

Both Delashmutt and Minsker had already began their descent when Hefflefinger was caught up in the avalanche. Delashmutt and Minsker traversed the slope to “skiers right” and Hefflefinger traversed the slope to “skiers left.”

Wall said it is not believed the avalanche was triggered by the first two men down the slope, but it is not known whether Hefflefinger triggered it. 

The 7,984-foot peak is located east of La Pine and the highest point on the Newberry Volcano.

Just this month, the sheriff's office has responded to two avalanche fatalities, the earlier one at Black Crater. Before this year, Wall said, it had been nine years since a fatality was recorded in the county directly due to an avalanche, according to information from

"The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office would like to remind everyone recreating in the backcountry to ensure that you have the proper equipment and training," Wall said. 

SAR teams spent much of the afternoon working to reach the area, though a medical team was already with the snowboarder.

The Central Oregon Avalanche Center's current avalanche forecast for the Cascades west of Bend is at the 'moderate' category, but the organization said it does not currently provide forecasts for the Paulina area.

COAC forecaster Gabe Coler said, "We do have a goal of forecasting for Paulina Peak, but right now, we don't have the resources. We focus on the Cascades because that's where we see the use."

COAC President Trevor Miller told NewsChannel 21 the organization plans to install a snow-depth sensor in the Newberry Volcanic National Monument as an addition to its Paulina weather station, thanks to the generosity of the Heilman family and Visit Bend sustainability grants.

Miller said that will assist in more complete data for future forecasting, but also noted that "all forecast centers have the tricky job of forecasting across a vast network of peaks, valleys, elevations and aspects, many of which do not have specific instrumentation."

"With that, the monument stands alone as a unique island separate from our primary zone of the Cascades and as such has a microclimate of its own.

"If we are speaking to issues with forecasting for Paulina, I would say it’s more related to the reality of COAC being a small grassroots nonprofit forecast center and providing coverage in that area has not been feasible to date, but COAC is steadily working towards establishing the instrumentation and capacity" to do so,

"In addition, Paulina Peak is a very advanced zone with significant exposure, (and) as such is definitely a location that margins and risk management decisions of any venturing party will always be very much in play, regardless of weather/snowpack instrumentation or forecast," Miller concluded. 

Earlier this month, an experienced backcountry skier, Aaron Griffith, 46, of Bend, was struck and killed by an avalanche he apparently triggered while skiing with a friend at Black Crater, north of the Three Sisters.

Article Topic Follows: Accidents and Crashes

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Barney Lerten

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