Saturday, March 19, 2011

March 19, 2006

Christmas 2005

Today is the five year anniversary of my brother’s death. He was tragically taken from us in a snowmobiling accident. I haven’t publically discussed his death in some time, as it doesn’t always seem appropriate and often people don’t know how to react, or what to say. However, now that I have this blog as an outlet, I felt it was time to pay tribute to him.

While it was 5 years ago, the memories are still very vivid in my mind.

Us as kids

According to what has been told to me, Tyler and my father had gone snowmobiling on March 19, near Conconully, a town 20 min north of Omak. My father has been snowmobiling his whole life and has competed in many hill climbs. As kids we would snowmobile on our grandparent’s ranch and in the annual Christmas parade in Conconnully. As I got older, I stopped participating, but Tyler and my father still took numerous trips each year up to the mountains. This particular day, my dad recalls was different than most. Tyler was very enthusiastic about the ride and was helping out more then usual. He road better than most of the other people there (about 20), and was beating my father’s high marks. He was very proud of Tyler and was so happy to be spending that time with him.

Early in the afternoon, the snow shifted, triggering an avalanche. My dad remembers seeing one of his buddies fly past him on his snowmobile, just in time to see the wall of snow hit him. He was pushed down the hill, where others were able to locate him and pull him out. Tyler wasn’t as lucky. Another rider recalls seeing Tyler in the path of the snow, desperately trying to get his snowmobile started and moved out of the path. But it was not fast enough, he was hit with the wall of snow and pulled down the hill to a grove of trees.

I have been told that it took them 4 hours to find Tyler. My father would not leave until they found him, despite his head injury.

The word spread through town fast. Practically everyone knows our family.

I heard the news a million miles away in Salzburg, Austria. The phone rang early on a Monday morning, my mother on the other line. I was confused as to why she was calling so early and went in another room, so that I wouldn’t wake my roommate. She told me to sit down and gave me the worst news of my life. I remember screaming uncontrollably, falling to the ground and then crying. So much crying. My mother was so strong and brave. She explained to me what happened. I had so many questions, most of which she couldn’t answer.

I flew back to Washington the next morning. It takes around 30 hours to get from Austria to Omak, it was the most lonely and painful 30 hours of my life. I was so exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. I was on the verge of crying the entire time and I was so embarrassed to be crying in front of all the strangers in the airports and planes.
Tyler with Tucker
By the time I got to Omak it was around 2am on Wednesday morning. I wanted to know everything. My step-dad Jay stayed up and recounted as much information as possible to me. I remember spending hours talking, until day broke. The rest of the week was filled with visits from people, going to the school to collect his things, picking out clothes for the funeral, planning the funeral, just so much that had to be done by Saturday. Not to mention my Mother’s birthday was on Friday. Tyler and Jay had planned a fried fish feed, so we decided to still celebrate her birthday, it is what he would have wanted.
Disneyland Trip, Summer 2002
His viewing was on that Friday as well. My Mom and I both didn’t want to see him, I think at the time we were scared to have that image, be our last memory of him. That we would only be able to remember him like that. Yet, after other people told us of how peaceful it was to see him and say goodbye, we decided we had to as well.

Walking into the funeral home was hard, really hard. There were so many high school kids there. They just looked as us with the saddest faces, filled with tears. It took a lot of courage for us to walk into the room he was in, more courage than I knew I had. Yet, the strangest thing happened. As we entered the room, a sense of calm came over us. We felt comforted, we felt Tyler was with us. I am very happy I got to see him one last time. I held his hand and my mom ran her fingers through his hair. I guess I didn’t feel as sad to see his body, since I knew he was in a better place. He was no longer confined to that mortal flesh, but was with us in our hearts and minds.

The funeral was even more difficult. The high school gym was almost completely filled with people. It was great to have so many of our family, friends and community members there to support Tyler, as well as us, but it was also very overwhelming to have that many people there.

That whole week felt unreal, it still feels unreal at times.

Sometimes I forget he is gone and remember something we did as kids. I want to be able to say, “Remember when…” and then it hits me like a ton of bricks that I can’t. I dream about him, a lot. I don’t know why. Usually he is just in the dream, we are just hanging out. There have been a few dreams where his death has been acknowledged, but those are rare.

Tyler at Big White, BC 2004
What has been the hardest for me is thinking about what is to come and all that he will miss out on. He wasn’t there for my college graduation, he never got to go to college; he wasn’t there for our wedding, he will never get married; he won’t be there when we have children, he will never be a father. I don’t get to grow old with him, and that makes me sad and mad. I have been an only child for the past 5 years. The way I relate to the world and those around me has changed. There is a before and after in my life and it is hard to adjust to the after.

They often say that it takes time to get over the loss of a loved one. I really don’t think time is going to help with this. When I really let myself react to how I am feeling, it is just as painful, if not more, then that tragic day 3 years ago.

I have collected a few pieces of news that discuss the accident…

Avalanche incident claims one snowmobiler in Washington

Date/Time of incident: 3-19-2006, ~2 PM

Location: Above Brown’s Meadow near Tiffany Mountain; approximately 12 miles NE of Conconully, Okanogan County, WA

Activity: Snowmobile

Incident: 2 snowmobilers caught—1 partly buried, 1 totally buried and killed, found about 30 inches under snow near base of tree

Slide information: Crown face ranged from 2-5 ft deep by ~200 ft across. Slide apparently released on faceted snow near the ground [HS-AMu-D2.5/3-R3.5-G].

Slope information: slope angle at the fracture line estimated in mid-upper 30 degree range; slope was convex and wind loaded near the top and lacked any significant anchoring (see photos below)

Slope aspect and elevation: W-NW exposure, approximately 6,000 ft elevation.

Preliminary accident information from News Media

Teen snowmobiler dies in Okanogan avalanche
03:40 PM PST on Monday, March 20, 2006 Staff
OKANOGAN Co., Wash. - A 17-year-old snowmobiler died Sunday in an avalanche near Tiffany Mountain, Conconully in Okanogan County.
According to authorities, Tyler Thompson of Omak was riding with several other snowmobilers, including his father, in the Browns Meadow area when one of the snowmobilers rode up the side of the bowl, triggering an avalanche. Tyler and his father were caught in the snow slide.
Members of the group quickly found his father but were unable to locate Thompson.
Search parties, along with a search dog were called to the area. After four hours, the dog led searchers to an area and they eventually located the teenager buried in the snow. It appeared he was carried down the hill and slammed into a tree.
Thompson's father was injured in the incident and was airlifted to an ambulance which then transported him to Mid-Valley Hospital. Tyler's body was taken to a funeral home in Twisp.
The Thompson family is well known in the county.

From The Chronicle, Inc., Omak, WA 98841 All contents copyright © 2006
Posted: Monday, March 20, 2006 - 9:10 a.m. PST
Omak teen-ager dies in avalanche near Conconully
An Omak High School honor student and athlete died March 19 in an avalanche while snowmobiling near Tiffany Mountain northwest of Conconully. Tyler A. Thompson, 17, Omak, died in the avalanche. His father, Frank Thompson, was injured, according to Okanogan County sheriff Frank Rogers.
The accident was reported around 2 p.m. Deputies, snowmobilers, and Okanogan County Search and Rescue personnel responded to Brown's Meadow near Tiffany Mountain. Search teams responded from the Conconully and Methow sides of the mountain. Vicki Buzzard of Aero Methow and her search dog were airlifted into the area by helicopter to begin the search, Rogers said.Thompson's body was located about four hours after the search began.
Rogers said it appears that Thompson was riding in the Brown's Meadow area with several other snowmobilers, including his father. One of the snowmobilers rode up the side of the bowl, which caused the snow to break loose. Thompson and his father were riding below and both were caught up in the avalanche. Other members of the party were able to get Thompson's father out and then they began to search for Thompson. They were joined by deputies and the other searchers.The dog alerted on a specific area and searchers concentrated their efforts on it and located Thompson's body.
"It appears that Thompson was carried down the hill where he struck a tree and was buried in approximately 30 inches of snow," said Rogers.Frank Thompson was airlifted from the scene to an ambulance, which transported him to Mid-Valley Hospital. Thompson's body was taken to Precht's Methow Valley Chapel, Twisp.
"This is hard on a community," said Rogers. "The Thompsons are well known in the county. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them." Omak principal John Belcher said.
Tyler A. Thompson was "an outstanding student" who played baseball and football. He also was involved in FCCLA and the Gear Up mentoring program for middle school students. Belcher said about 60-100 people gathered Sunday evening at the high school and the school will be open all night tonight, March 20. Extra counselors are on hand at school today to help students and teachers cope with the loss, he said. A letter to parents will go home with students today, he added.

Excerpt from the Omak Pioneers Football Newsletter

On March 19, 2006 the Omak Football team lost one of its most beloved teammates, Tyler A. Thompson, to a snowmobile accident. Tyler was the team’s starting tight end and defensive end, but most of all he was the team’s emotional leader. Coach Nick Sackman said, “His presence on and off the field will be irreplaceable. He was a great asset to this team, this school and this community. Tyler was a smart, energetic, loving, hard working, and emotional young man. He was the kind of kid that a father hopes his son will grow up to be.”


  1. Hailey, I found your blog from your card and this post kept coming up in line with the suggested post. I loved all the pictures and post I read through. You have such a beautiful family!
    I am so sorry to hear about your brother. Thank you for writing about him. I lost my father to ALS when I was 21 and some of your story I feel like I can closely relate to. I see now this is years later, but I know what it's like to feel like no one wants to talk about it and you can feel like everyone has forgotten. It's been 14 years since my father's death and as it has gotten easier, I wouldn't say that time eased the pain--I've just had to get used to a new normal. And when I think about it, it still gives me that pit in my stomach that aches to have him back just for one more day. You are a beautiful person inside and out and it has been such a blessing for me to meet you. I wish you all the best with your family and that these memories of your brother would always stay close to your heart.

  2. Thanks Jane!! I appreicate your kind words.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...