Dramatic rescue of snowmobiler caught on tape

Snowmobilers in Washington's Cascade range had just cut a fresh path across the hillside when one of them, John Swanson, was off his machine and walking.

He didn't see the avalanche cascading down behind him, which then buried him. Swanson needed help, and fast.

"The reality," he says, "is that I was getting suffocated, face-first in the snow."

Others on the hill raced toward the place he had disappeared. But Swanson couldn't help them find him.

"I couldn't move anything," he says. "I couldn't move my legs, my toes, my arms. Anything. ... And it's always said to get your hand up so somebody knows where to search for you. But there was no physical way."

Several of Swanson's friends, including Rick Joblinske, were digging frantically.

Joblinske recalled that another friend was "saying, 'I can hear him, I can hear him, I can hear him!' and he was digging right where the voice was."

Under the snow, Swanson wasn't even sure what had happened.

He says he "could hear them yelling: 'Where you at? Where you at?' And so, I knew they were close."

Then, one said, "We got you, we got you. ... You're good."

Another added, "We got you. We got his head."

That there was a happy ending to this story may well be because the snowmobilers were wearing safety equipment including helmets, and we got to see it all because there was a camera on one of those helmets.

But what the camera did not capture was the final rescue.

"We dug a hole down to his shoulders," says Joblinske. "And then, you know, two guys, we just grabbed him and, you know, pulled him right up out of the ground, and everybody's hugging him and, you know, saying, 'Wow, wow, that's so cool."'

"I think," Swanson observes, "they were probably shaken up by it more than i was. They pulled me out of the snow, I got back on the snowmobile and rode some more."

It was a little later, Swanson says, that his predicament sank in.

Still, he intends to be back on his snowmobile this weekend.

Watch John Blackstone's full report in the video player above.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.