Lander Woman Provides Eyewitness Account of Togwotee Avalanche Rescue Mission

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A Lander woman was having a normal day last week when she came across the search and rescue mission for the Togwotee avalanche that ultimately claimed the life of a Jackson snowboarder.

Kathi McKee and her husband were about 10 miles from Togwotee Pass and managed to catch much of the rescue on camera, through photos and video.

“We had parked here for the day and when we returned, the helicopter was flying overhead with a SAR person hanging from a rope with the patient bundled in an orange sleeping bag-type bundle,” McKee said.

Michael McKelvey, 31, a seasonal resident of Jackson, died after being caught in an avalanche Thursday near Wind River Lake near the top of Togwotee Pass.

Search and Rescue Chief Advisor Cody Lockhart said a group of snowboarders had built a substantial “kicker” to launch up toward a slope, and when McKelvey landed, it triggered the slide, which Lockhart described as having a 5-foot crown. 

McKelvey was totally buried, but was wearing a beacon and his companions were able to uncover him and begin life support efforts. 

Members of Teton County Search and Rescue were training on snowmobiles a short distance away and were on the scene within 10 to 15 minutes. 

McKee said Teton County Search and Rescue stopped traffic to allow the helicopter to circle and land, so McKelvey could be placed inside and flown to a hospital in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

“So professionally done. Amazing!” she said.

According to recreation website Teton Gravity Research, McKelvey had been an active member of the Jackson snowboarding community for years.

According to an Instagram post, McKelvey was buried under 12 feet of snow during the avalanche.

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