SAN JUAN COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)- The three missing skiers buried in a backcountry avalanche in the northern San Juan Mountains have been identified as Seth Bossung, Andy Jessen and Adam Palmer. The Town of Eagle and Eagle County released the names of the skiers on Wednesday.
Palmer was the sustainability director for Eagle County, Bossung worked with Palmer in the same department and Jessen was the owner of Bonfire Brewery.
Late Wednesday evening, the Office of Emergency Management of San Juan County announced the men's bodies had been recovered. Officials say conditions were too treacherous for a helicopter to retrieve the bodies, and they would have to wait until a break in the weather for the helicopter to fly in.
OEM officials stated crews worked for 12 hours on Wednesday to recover the bodies which were buried under 20 feet of avalanche debris.
"We're just kind of processing this and I think the transition from rescue to recovery has been really hard," said Jeff Shroll, Eagle County Manager. "It's a really good, close knit group of mountain bikers, skiers, kayakers, just outdoorsmen in general."
Like many in the community, Shroll knew the men well. He says all three were good friends, and experienced backcountry skiers.
"For me, just being able to rely on Adam, you know for some of our COVID response, that's what Eagle County primarily doing right now is just responding to COVID, and I think about all my different check-ins with my staff, almost every one of those conversations has reminded me, 'oh geez, I got Adam working on that. Oh, crap, I got Adam working on that one too,'" Shroll said. "You know, I think it's just not set in yet. We're just kind of processing this."
The joint statement from the Town of Eagle and Eagle County reads, in part, "Our hearts are heavy with the loss of these three men. Their contributions through their work in local government and local businesses, as well as their personal passions and their impact on the friends and family members they leave behind, have helped shape the community in ways that will be forever lasting. Every single one of us in both of our organizations has learned by their examples, and we are grateful to be able to call them colleagues."
Four skiers, all part of a larger group, were fully buried in Monday's slide, which occurred in a backcountry area known locally as the Nose, specifically located between the towns of Ophir and Silverton.
The group was able to recover one of the four who survived with minor injuries. It's still unclear what prevented them from reaching the remaining three.
Recovery efforts were called off Tuesday due to dangerous avalanche conditions. While it resumed Wednesday, the same threats remained in addition to quickly accumulating snowfall.
"Part of the access road had a natural avalanche run yesterday so there's about 12 feet of debris on top of the already existing snowpack, and right now that's what we're focused on getting our SAR team in and out safely," said DeAnne Gallegos, Public Information Officer for the San Juan County Office of Emergency Management.
"Sometimes these types of accidents take multiple days, and that's very stressful for every one involved especially the families that are involved, but our first and foremost mission is sending our search and rescue teams out there in a safe and effective manner, and that is of the utmost importance," said Gallegos.
Crews did know where the men are located thanks to their beacon signals but the issue remained the safety of the responders.
There is a gathering planned to remember Bossung on Sunday posted on Facebook.
For Shroll, the community support has been instrumental. He said throughout the week, the Eagle Valley Behavioral Health will be on site at the county building to help those who need support.
"One thing Eagle County has really worked hard on in the last year and a half is a great partnership with Eagle Valley Behavioral Health. We have some really powerful reassures through EVBH just to help people grieve and process this stuff and so all of their services are going to be made available," said Shroll.
Late Wednesday, Gov. Jared Polis shared his condolences with the skiers' families and community.
"Those tragically lost in this avalanche were pillars of their community, public servants and friends to many. My thoughts are with their families, friends, and the Eagle County community during what must be a heart-wrenching and unimaginable moment."
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