Snowmachiners describe backcountry recovery effort after deadly accident

  • Published
  • By Travis Khachatoorian |
  • KTUU

 It was a deadly weekend of snowmachining two Wasilla residents said they'll never forget.

On Sunday, Dillinger Koeckritz and Jon Duft were riding with friends in the backcountry off Yoder Road when they found the body of another rider, ultimately assuming responsibility to help in the recovery.

“I've never witnessed something like this before,” said Koeckritz.

According to Koeckritz, during the Sunday afternoon ride, his group happened to be near two other snowmachiners riding in the same area. Visibility was reduced from the fog, so Koeckritz said his team invited the other two to ride nearby.

Koeckritz said, at one point his snowmachine got stuck, and the group spent about 45 minutes trying to break his snowmachine loose. When it was freed, one of the snowmachiners in the pair joining the group realized his riding partner was missing.

“I said let's all stick together. Let's find your friend,” said Duft.

Near a snow berm, Duft said they found Jacob Harris, 19, trapped underneath his sled. He was not breathing.

“Jon started taking off his helmet off and jacket off and started CPR, while Jason called 911 and handed me the phone,” said Koeckritz.

Duft said he took a CPR training class, but this was the first time he had to use it in a real emergency.

“[It was] something that I [would] never think I had to do, and I hope nobody ever has to do it,” said Duft. “But we had to do what I had to do.”

Poor weather conditions reported down to 100 feet visibility prevented State Troopers and emergency Mat Su rescuers from launching a helicopter to the scene.

“I knew from the get-go life support was not going to fly up,” said Koeckritz. “They can't fly in visibility that bad.”

Koeckritz said after discussing their options, the group loaded the victim onto their sled and attempted to transport him back to the trailhead. During the incident, Koeckritz said the victim’s riding partner called a family member for help.

That’s when State Troopers report, “A private helicopter responded to the scene with a family member of the deceased on board to assist with recovering Harris.”

Koeckritz, Duft and the rest of the group rode their snowmachines back to the trailhead to give statements to authorities.

“It's a horrible situation, and you never want to see it especially with a kid this young, but in this activity there’s dangers,” said Koeckritz.

Koeckritz and Duft expressed their condolences to the family, and said hopefully the tragedy serves as a warning to other young riders to never leave the sight of riding partners and always ride with three or more people in the backcountry in case of an emergency.

“I just want to press the caution on to everyone to stay safe,” said Duft. “It's all fun and games, it's always a really good time, but you always have to keep those precautions in your mind at all times.”

Harris was transported to the State Medical Examiner’s Office for autopsy.