Skier documents proof of dog's burial, escape from fatal avalanche

Video shows hole from which corgi escaped
2012-01-06T12:45:00Z 2012-01-07T16:30:35Z Skier documents proof of dog's burial, escape from fatal avalancheBRETT FRENCH Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
January 06, 2012 12:45 pm  • 

A Cooke City skier trekked into the Hayden Creek drainage on Thursday and found proof that Oly the Welsh corgi had indeed been buried alive and dug his way out of an avalanche that killed one of his owners just north of Yellowstone National Park.

Ben Zavora posted a video on his website,  of his trek back to the site, which showed the dog's tracks following along a ski trail as well as a 3-foot-deep hole 40 feet below where David Gaillard, 44, of Bozeman was found buried on Saturday.


The smaller hole had fur inside and was no more than about a foot in diameter. Corgis are small dogs, weighing up to about 25 pounds and standing only about a foot tall on stumpy legs. They were bred small as herding dogs to avoid being kicked by livestock.

"We were all over the place, six of us, and we never saw or heard a thing" during rescue efforts Saturday, Zavora said in the video.

Whether the dog tried to alert rescuers is unknown. During avalanche training for search dogs, Mark Staples of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center has been purposely buried.

"You can hear everything," he said. "But you could be screaming and it would be hard to hear" from above.

Passed on trail

According to the fatality report from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center, Zavora and a companion had seen Gaillard and his wife, Kerry Gaillard, as well as Oly on the day of the accident. Zavora was on his way out of the area and warned the couple that his companion had been partially buried in a small avalanche.

The Gaillards continued and were searching for a lunch site when the avalanche broke, trapping David Gaillard and Oly. The slide narrowly missed Kerry Gaillard, who searched for almost three hours before skiing back to town for help. Both skiers were wearing avalanche beacons, but hers was old and the batteries may have been weak, complicating her search.

Zavora joined the Cooke City Search and Rescue that evening to help retrieve David Gaillard's body.

"We were here 48 hours afterward doing an investigation and there was no sign of a dog or any other life around here," Zamora said in the video.

Return to Cooke

On Wednesday, four days after the incident, the small, stout dog showed up at the doorstep to the room at the Alpine Motel in Cooke City where the Gaillards had stayed -- four miles and a couple thousand feet in elevation below where the avalanche struck.

"We're thinking it took him that long to get out," said Kay Whittle, owner of Antlers Lodge in Cooke City. "It's just bizarre, really. I wouldn't have believed it was possible."

Whittle's husband, Bill, drove the dog to Bozeman on Wednesday to reunite Oly with his family. Bill was also one of the members of the search and rescue team that recovered Gaillard's body, so he said it was nice to deliver the family some happy news.

Gaillard's daughter, 11-year-old Marguerite, was putting photos of Oly on poster board as a memorial Wednesday afternoon when news of the dog's survival was phoned in.

"She found out when she was halfway done with that that Oly was still alive," Gaillard's stepdaughter, Silver Brelsford, told the Associated Press.

Brelsford said Oly was tired but doing well.

Other incidents

Oly's ordeal, although unusual, is not without precedent. According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, in 1966 a dog was buried in an avalanche at a Colorado ski area. Although searchers organized a probe line, they found nothing. Three days later, the dog crawled out from beneath a small tree that had apparently created an air pocket and walked back to the lodge. In the spring of 1884, a dog named Bruiser was rescued from under a bunk in a snow-filled cabin 33 days after an avalanche hit a mining camp near Aspen, Colo., and killed five men.

Dogs have also been found days after their masters were killed, but it is uncertain whether they were buried in the avalanches or not. In 2004 a dog was found six days after its owner was killed in a Colorado avalanche. In 1995 a dog survived a 1,200-foot tumble when it was swept off a Colorado peak. The avalanche killed his master.

Family request

The story of the Oly's survival captured the attention of news agencies and people across the United States and overseas. Calls came in from Stockholm, Sweden, The Weather Channel and Fox News to The Billings Gazette seeking information.

The deluge of media interest in Oly's story prompted the Gaillard family, who held a memorial service for David on Friday, to issue a public request:

"David's family appreciates the tremendous outpouring of support from the community in the wake of the tragedy that claimed the life of David Gaillard. We share the surprise and delight of his dog Oly's unexpected return. The invincible spirit of the Welsh corgi who was able to dig himself out and return after four days in the wilderness is an inspiration and a joy to all of us.

"While our family understands the media's interest in the situation, we are focused right now on celebrating David's life. He was a wonderful young man who made an immense contribution to the community and to regional conservation efforts. He passed away far too soon and we are deeply saddened. David's family will not be providing further interviews and ask that the media respect that request.

"Those interested in contributing to David's legacy are encouraged to visit Thank you."

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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