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The weight of recovering a body from an avalanche: "You hear the anguish, you hear the grief"

Rescue crews discuss recovering bodies buried in avalanches in Colorado's high country
Rescue crews discuss recovering bodies buried in avalanches in Colorado's high country 02:27

Charles Pitman has been with the Summit County Rescue Group for decades at this point and has a lot of wonderful memories with the team.

He also carries with him awful memories from some of their darkest missions, when things go wrong and it's up to them to help bring closure to a family.

"You think about them over the years, the ones that bother me the most are children," Pitman said.

Charles Pitman of the Summit County Rescue Group   CBS

Just this last Saturday, teams, including Pitman went searching for a 31-year-old man reported missing by his girlfriend, after he had gone up to Bald Mountain (or Baldy) and had not returned. Crews were able to locate him under 2 feet of snow in the path of an avalanche.

"It was a long extraction," Pitman said. "It was probably 4, 4:30 in the morning when we were finally done."

The Summit County Sheriff's Office's special response team was on hand to help with the investigation and first identified the slide with their drone. After they were finished, the Rescue Group started the long hike home, bringing the skier back along with them.

RELATED: Backcountry skier fatally buried in avalanche near Breckenridge

Normally a coroner would make the call to family and friends, but since Pitman had already had contact with the girlfriend, he made the call. He said he doesn't do it often, but when he does, he remembers those calls.

"They are hard, very hard because you know what is going on on the other end," Pitman said. "You hear the anguish, you hear the grief. It is something I wouldn't wish on anybody."

That's part of why they are so adamant about people being aware of the conditions not only for backcountry skiers and snowboarders but for anyone stepping foot onto snow right now in the mountains.

"We are not done with avalanche season," Anna DeBattiste, PIO of Summit County Rescue Group explained. "We really would like people to keep that in mind when they are heading out even if it is just to go snowshoeing."

Anna DeBattiste, PIO of Summit County Rescue Group   CBS

That means starting early and getting off the mountain early as well. DeBattiste said she has seen people start their days on the mountain around 11 or later and worried they might not come back.

As for their team, they work hard to make sure everyone is coping well with the difficult things they have to see and do in their line of work as volunteers.

"You just have to really focus on the task at hand, bringing the person down, getting them down to the trailhead where the coroner will pick up the remains," Pitman said. "It is one of those things where you rely a lot on your teammates. I have received two calls, one this morning, one yesterday from a good teammate who is a pilot who called me from China. The reason he called was to check on my emotional well-being. That means a lot."

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