Structural Engineering Failure!

During an April snow skills field trip at Mt Rainier, some climbing students built an impressively large snow cave, with a less than perfect roof design. Though in this case no-one was seriously injured, it's easy to imagine that had the timing been different, tragedy might have ensued.
Peter Clitherow Peter Clitherow
March 10, 2015

[From the field trip leader's report]

During the snow overnight field trip, one team of students built a cave that was 10 ft by 7 ft in about 1.5 hrs, noting wet and heavy snow conditions. Two students were inside the cave and building the dome shape in the roof when the roof collapsed, burying them. They could not move, and the heavy snow made it difficult to breathe. One student had positioned an arm in front of his face to create a pocket.

Another student alerted the instructors and the remaining two students began digging; the instructors also responded with shovels and began excavating out the buried students whom they could hear. Within 1-2 minutes according to the diggers but longer according to those buried, the heads and faces of the two buried students were exposed and able to tell the diggers the locations of their appendages.

The first student was completely dug out and uninjured within 3-4 minutes, and the final student within 4-5 mins. The instructors asked about pain, but they didn’t feel any pain at that point. The buried students then assisted in excavating the site to find their belongings.

The students spent the night in tents. The next day, the first student dug out was able to complete the skills but felt pain in his shoulder. He felt sharp pain on the right side of his chest early in the day but chose to participate in belays and ice axe arrest. The group noted highly variable snow conditions, and the overnight temperatures were near or above freezing.

A doctors visit indicated the student strained and/or tore costal cartilage between his third and fourth ribs and sternum on the right side requiring about 3 weeks to a month to fully heal; no broken ribs. 

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