Testimony of Protection
By David Shutler
My adult son survived an avalanche in a car near Lake Tahoe, California on January 23, 2017 at 1:30 a.m. PST. This is my thanks to all who were awake at that hour and praying for the world. Your “prayers did not return unto you void,” but fulfilled their mission in the protection of my son. You may have seen the CBS news report of two young men taking selfies from inside an avalanche. You might not have connected your prayers to that event. I do.
My wife and I were asleep and unaware of the danger facing our son at the midnight hour. Over forty years of parenting, we have prayed for the protection and wellbeing of our three sons. My favorite is: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” Psalms 118:17. But on this night, at that hour, I was asleep. And our son needed your prayers. Here’s what happened.
After an evening with friends working on a car, near Lake Tahoe California on January 23, my son and his roommate headed home together at midnight on Route 89. The road they were on follows the Truckee River through a wooded valley that has a steep pitch and is thus subject to avalanche in deep snow. The area had seen over seven feet of snow in a short span. After about 10 minutes on the road, they saw a flash of white in front of them and immediately braked. In an instant, they were buried in an avalanche that turned out to be 12 feet deep and 140 yards across.
Several factors protected them in the car. The avalanche front had crossed the road about 50 yards in front of their vehicle, so that the full force of the avalanche had occurred seconds before their car arrived. And although the avalanche traversed a wooded area, there was no debris in the snow that hit their car to puncture the windows. The snow was dry enough and light enough that it did not crash in the roof of the vehicle, nor did it roll them over.
Small avalanches are estimated to pack the force of 1000 pounds per square foot, so the vehicle had to be in precisely the right place to avoid a crushing blow and also avoid being pushed off the edge of the road, down a ravine and into the Truckee River about 50 yards to their left. Providentially, the snowplow berm, that had built up to the right of the road where their car was located, rose about 8 feet off the road. This apparently caused the force of the avalanche to largely pass above their vehicle, rather than hitting the vehicle broadside.
After the avalanche stalled to a stop, there was white stillness and silence. The two men had the presence of mind to turn off the car ignition to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Of course, immediately the car became very cold. But both men had been Boy Scouts as youths and recalled their training in cold weather protection, so quickly got out of wet socks and boots. They had also prepared for winter weather by previously storing a blanket in the car. So they pulled it out and huddled under it to stay warm.
Looking around at their situation they realized they were in a tight spot, but rather than panic, they were jubilant that they had not been killed in the first wave of the avalanche. “Come now let us reason together saith the Lord,” (Isa 1:18) and that is what they began to do. Their plan was to wait for a rescue but be prepared to dig out if they became light headed, which would indicate their oxygen was getting low. Inside the car they had a shovel, but when they tried to open the door they found it was pressed tight to the car, so they realized that digging out would be a risky proposition. They were also mindful that a shift in position could cause the car to tumble and that an opened window could let in more snow than they could shovel. More problematic, since they did not know how deep the snow was above them, they did not know if they could even make it up to breathable air. They figured that the vehicle cab contained about two hours of oxygen, which was true. So they decided to stay put, and consciously work to stay calm and preserve it.
Providentially, the exact spot in the road where the avalanche buried them had a full five bars of cell coverage. Less than a mile down the valley road, there was no cell coverage. And providentially, their phone batteries were still charged at the end of the day. So they called 911 and made contact with a search and rescue team. Owing to a clear cell signal, the call to the fire and rescue team was received and immediately a trained team was dispatched. Providentially, the station was located only two miles away so the team arrived at the avalanche within minutes.
After placing the 911 call, realizing they were in a very unique situation, and wanting to take their mind off the sobering aspects of it, they began streaming a Facebook live selfie from inside the car. Seeing their situation as a cosmic joke or remarkable stroke, they relaxed and enjoyed the humor in what had happened.
Outside their car, the challenge confronting the rescue team was formidable. The roadway was completely obscured in about 12 feet of snow for approximately 140 yards. In the dark of night, the blanket of snow gave no clues as to the whereabouts of the car. The crew recognized that the car had about 2 hours of air in it. So the rescue team started a police line with 12-foot aluminum probes along the presumed road course. They had cell contact with the men, but no way to identify their location. So they methodically worked their way across the avalanche.
After about an hour, they located the car and the men begin honking their horn. The metal probe that first hit the car glanced off the windshield. Providentially, despite the immense pressure on the glass, the metal probe did not break the windshield. The next two pole probes hit the car roof and the men began to see light from above. The rescue team began shoveling down 12 feet by hand to open the car door and allow the two man to escape. Celebration. Shortly afterwards, snowplows began the task of clearing the roadway.
The only damage to the car, other than a couple of welcomed pole dents to the roof, was the loosening of all twenty lug nuts on the wheels, which likely occurred as the vehicle was being pushed sideways at the start of the slide. Interestingly, although two lug nuts had spun off completely, the car was still able to be driven away.
The Christian Science Lesson-Sermon that week was on the topic of Love. Several passages conveyed new meaning to me the day after I learned of my son’s rescue.
Jeremiah 23:23, 24. Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I should not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.
Joshua 1:9. Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with the withersoever thou goest.
I John 4:16, 18. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.
Science and Health 2:4–11. Are we benefited by praying? Yes, the desire which goes forth hungering after righteousness is blessed by our father, and it does not return unto us void.
Psalm 92:5, 17. 5. I called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place. 17. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 33:12, 27. The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him; and the Lord shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between his shoulders. The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms: Mathew 19:26. With God all things are possible.
In these times, as parents, we long for our children’s protection. Particularly when we can’t be there and can’t know the danger they face. Here is a poem from Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan that captures that idea for me and conveys the deep feelings involved.
Lord, Protect My Child
Written by Bob Dylan
Copyright © Bob Dylan Music Co.
For his age, he’s wise
He’s got his mother’s eyes
There’s gladness in his heart
He’s young and he’s wild
My only prayer is, if I can’t be there,
Lord, protect my child
As his youth now unfolds
He is centuries old
Just to see him at play makes me smile
No matter what happens to me
No matter what my destiny
Lord, protect my child
While the world is asleep
You can look at it and weep
Few things you find are worthwhile
And though I don’t ask for much
Lord, protect my child