Witnessed Cardiac Arrest in a Hypothermic Avalanche Victim Completely Buried for 2 Hours

Author Department

Emergency Medicine

Document Type

Article, Peer-reviewed

Publication Date



A 34-y-old skier triggered a wind slab avalanche and was completely buried for over 2 h. After extrication by rescuers, the victim was breathing and conscious. Despite directions from the rescuers against standing up, the victim struggled to free himself and ultimately stood upright before collapsing in cardiac arrest. The rescuers performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation during transport to a nearby trailhead, where a helicopter emergency medical services crew found that the victim was in ventricular fibrillation. After further resuscitative efforts, including advanced life support, the victim was declared dead at the scene. Afterdrop and circumrescue collapse were the most likely triggers of cardiac arrest. This case highlights a need for rescuers, emergency medical services, and hospitals to be prepared to care for victims with hypothermia. To prevent circumrescue collapse, victims with hypothermia should be extricated gently, should not be allowed to stand, and should be placed flat. This may be difficult or impossible, as in this case. Hypothermic victims in cardiac arrest may require prolonged cardiopulmonary resuscitation, preferably with mechanical compressions, during transport to a hospital that has protocols for rewarming using extracorporeal life support. Resuscitation from hypothermic cardiac arrest should not be terminated before the victim has been rewarmed.

Keywords: afterdrop; avalanche burial; circumrescue collapse; emergency medical services; extracorporeal life support; extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.