Body of Antonito resident Gray recovered from an avalanche

Courtesy photo In this Facebook photo, search, and rescuers probe the avalanche for Kevin Gray of Antonito who died in the Feb. 25 avalanche near La Manga Pass.

LA MANGA — Conejos County Sheriff Garth Crowther confirmed the body of Kevin Gray was recovered at 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 27, from the avalanche that occurred near La Manga Pass on Saturday, Feb. 25.

About 80 people, comprised of professional search and rescue teams and local residents had been searching for Antonito resident Gray, 45, a snowmobiler buried in the avalanche.

In a press release, the Conejos County Sheriff's Office stated, "We send our deepest condolences to the Gray family and their friends during this difficult time.

"Special thanks go out to the search and rescue teams out of Alamosa County, Mineral County, Rio Grande County, the Colorado State Search and Rescue Team, Forest Service, Wolf Creek Dog Teams, Classic Air, Emergency Management Services, and to all of the community members who dedicated their time to help with the search and rescue mission."

Regarding those efforts, Crowther told the Valley Courier, "There is no better place than Costilla County and the San Luis Valley; we had all these people out on the mountain searching."

According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the avalanche happened at an elevation of 10,600 feet on a 35-degree southeast-facing slope. This winter, there have been seven avalanche-related fatalities in Colorado, including three this weekend in the southwest.

On Feb. 25, at approximately 2:30 p.m., the Conejos County Sheriff's Office received an S.O.S notification of an avalanche with people buried. Using coordinates from the S.O.S signal, the location was determined to be near the Red Lake Trail on Cumbres Pass. Sheriff's office personnel responded to the area and set up a command post on Colorado Highway 17.

A medical helicopter was stationed at the command post. Sheriff's office personnel responded to the scene using a snowcat and search and rescue members on snowmobiles.

Information gathered at the command post determined there was a group of people in the back country snowmobiling when the avalanche occurred. Gray was buried by the avalanche and was unable to escape. Probing and rescue attempts by responders were performed until after dark but were unsuccessful in finding the missing snowmobiler.

The sheriff's office, search and rescue members, family, and volunteers returned to the scene Sunday morning. A massive effort by rescuers along with search dogs and avalanche specialists were deployed to the area to assist. The search continued into the afternoon until blizzard conditions stopped the operation.

Efforts continued Monday, Feb. 27, until the body was found.

"The Conejos County Sheriff's Office would like to thank the community for the outpouring of support that has been received since Saturday. The time and resources the community donated made a tremendous difference during the long days of the search. From the food and drinks donated to those searching, the equipment provided to help with the search, and all of the time donated, this would not have been possible without the generosity of the community," according to the sheriff's office press release.

Each year there are between six and 12 avalanche fatalities in Colorado. Also, on Feb. 25, two backcountry skiers died near Vallecito Reservoir in La Plata County.

Sheriff Crowther said there is a significant snowstorm predicted for the mountains in the next several days, and he advised those heading to the outdoors "be careful" and to buy and wear an avalanche beacon.

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