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Olympic hockey player lost while snowboarding - loses both feet to cold injuries

Snowboarder Found After Week in Wilderness
February 19 2004
A former Olympic hockey player who became lost in the Sierra Nevada wilderness survived for a week by living in a makeshift igloo and eating pine nuts and needles.

Searchers found Eric Lemarque, 34, sprawled in the snow, conscious but barely moving. He was unable to find his way back to Mammoth Mountain ski resort after going out of ski-run boundaries while snowboarding alone.

"It was amazing that he survived in that cold," rescuer Joe Rousek said. "We knew he was a hockey player, in good shape. But I don't think he'd have lasted another night."

Lemarque, who was rescued last Friday, remained hospitalized for dehydration, hypothermia and severe frostbite to his left foot.

He was snowboarding alone Feb. 6 when "he went off the track," said his mother, Susan Lemarque.

"When it got dark, he couldn't tell quite where he was," she said. "He continued on down the mountain, thinking he'd find his way out."

Lemarque, a hockey coach who played for the French national team in the 1994 Olympics, relied on pine nuts and needles for food and built a crude igloo as shelter.

His parents alerted authorities at the resort after they were unable to reach their son by phone.

Snowboarder who spent days lost in Sierra loses both feet
Wednesday, March 3, 2004
A former Olympic hockey player who had both feet amputated after he got lost on a snowy Sierra mountainside while snowboarding is vowing to return to the slopes.

Eric Lemarque, 34, was to undergo a follow-up procedure Thursday to close wounds from the amputation. Doctors said he could take his first steps using temporary prostheses in six to eight weeks, but Lemarque was already looking forward to hitting the slopes.

"I'll be snowboarding next season," he said from a wheelchair during a news conference Wednesday at the Grossman Burn Center at Sherman Oaks Hospital.

Severe frostbite cut off circulation and caused gangrene, forcing surgeons to amputate Lemarque's feet from the ankles on Sunday.

"Unfortunately, frostbite to this extent ... calls its own fate," said Dr. Peter Grossman, associate medical director of the center. "There's nothing much that we can do."

Lemarque said he was simply luck to be alive. "I feel rich. I've never been a happier man than I am right now," he said. "God has saved me."

He was snowboarding alone at Mammoth Mountain ski resort on Feb. 6 when he left the boundaries of a run and became disoriented. After wandering for a week along the mountain's western slopes in snow reaching 15 feet deep, he was found conscious but barely moving by rescuers on February 14.

With little more than his clothes and a snowboard, he survived on a diet of pine nuts, bark and bubble gum and slept on pine branches to keep dry.

Despite his efforts, Lemarque knew early on he would lose his feet, which turned red and purple and were ice cold. "I couldn't get a boot on. I was walking in the snow with one foot in a boot, with no socks on either foot," he said.

Using a radio signal from his MP3 player, he managed to orient himself and trek up the mountain when a helicopter found him. It was only on the last day that his hope of being rescued began to fade, he said.

"I found myself trying to walk and falling over, and I started to become a little bit disorganized in my thoughts," he said. "I started to dream about actually getting saved and I started to think that, 'Hey, this is a game and I want to reset the button."'

The helicopter "was a sight I'll never forget," he said. "It warmed me to know that I was going to be all right."

Lemarque said the ordeal has brought him closer to his divorced parents and made him re-evaluate his life. "This could be the greatest experience of my life," he said.

Born in France, Lemarque lived in Los Angeles' West Hills section and has worked as a hockey coach. He played hockey in the 1994 Winter Olympics for the French national team, scoring one goal in five games. He played five seasons with the French national team, he said. He also represented France in the 1994 and 1995 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships.

Our Analysis-
I have no knowledge of this unfortunate incident other that what is printed above, but experience tells us the following:
While this 1994 Olympic Athlete may have done the right thing when lost, by creating "a crude igloo as shelter", he was unable to stay warm enough while inactive. I surmise he did not have enough insulation (a 6oz pad) from the cold snow or ground or enough Essential extra insulating and wind proof clothing to maintain necessary body temperature from his resting basal metabolism. I surmise he did not have Essential extra food or water for warmth or the ability to try to start a fire on the cold and wet mountainside. He realized he could not stay in one place because he had not asked a reliable person to watch for his return.  He had to keep moving to generate heat from working muscles to avoid hypothermia and try to find his way without map, compass and GPS and other Essentials.

We believe everyone who ventures into the backcountry should be equipped with the Ten Essentials and the knowledge to use them.  Following the the Basic Responsibilities of the backcountry traveler would have helped this world class athlete. We insist that "digging an emergency snow cave" be considered only as an extreme last resort and not as a safe fall back adventure.
--Robert Speik, Webmeister


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