A 3-year-old boy was buried for several minutes Monday beneath three feet of snow that fell off a roof at The Lowell Whiteman School.
Sebastian Radl-Jones survived the incident but suffered a laceration on his forehead. His parents, school staff and students dug Sebastian out of the large pile of heavy, wet snow that slid off the slanted metal roof of the school's two-story Kakela Hall. It was sunny and warm when the slide happened just after noon.
"That was really scary," said Sandy Phillips, an art teacher at the school and a member of Routt County Search and Rescue.
Sebastian -- conscious, breathing and crying -- was taken by ambulance to Yampa Valley Medical Center for treatment.
Sebastian's father, Travis Jones, is director of admissions at Lowell Whiteman. Jones and his wife, Ivana Radlova, also have a 6-month-old child. The four were returning from a walk when Sebastian fell slightly behind to play on a snow pile.
Snow likely fell off the same roof early Monday or the day before, said Sgt. Ray Birch of the Routt County Sheriff's Office.
"The child was playing on the pile when the rest of it fell down," Birch said.
Phillips said Sebastian's parents were almost caught in the slide themselves. Radlova had the 6-month-old strapped onto her back.
"Just as they walked past (the pile), the snow slid," Phillips said. "It didn't fall on (Sebastian) -- it pushed him like a wave."
Phillips said she was in her classroom by herself when she heard shouting from Kakela Hall, a dormitory for students.
"I saw snow on the ground and shovels flying, so I started looking for more people and more shovels to send over," Phillips said. Phillips said that when she heard Radlova's voice "become panicky," she knew more people would be needed.
One of those people was Head of School Walt Daub, who was walking out of the school's main building when he heard the noise. He didn't have time to find a shovel.
"I ran over there with my bare hands," Daub said.
The Sheriff's Office received a phone call about the slide at 12:06 p.m. When officers and a Routt County Search and Rescue team arrived shortly after, Sebastian's head was free of the snow, he was breathing and yelling, and a tragedy had been narrowly avoided.
"Luckily, (Radlova) saw exactly where (Sebastian) was," Phillips said.
Birch said Sebastian was under as many as three feet of snow for "a minimum of four, a maximum of eight" minutes. Birch described the snow as "like heavy, wet cement," stuck together in large blocks that may have saved Sebastian's life.
"This kind of snow, in slabs, can leave you an inch or two of breathing room," said Ken Klinger, an investigator with the Sheriff's Office. "But not for very long."
School officials said late Monday afternoon that Sebastian was "doing well" and being held at the hospital for observation.
The temperature in Steamboat Springs was nearly 50 degrees at the time of the slide. As Birch and Klinger stood on the roughly 20-foot-wide pile of snow that blocked an entire roadway -- well after Sebastian had been rescued -- the scene was not yet safe.
"I just heard a noise -- what was that?" Klinger said, eyes going instantly to the roof.
Minutes later a crumbling wave of heavy snow fell to the ground, this time causing no harm.
"You have no control over when it goes," Klinger said.
Birch said sliding snow could be an ongoing danger in the coming months.
"As the temperature warms, please be aware of the imminent threat of snow moving and sliding, especially with a high-pitched, metal roof," Birch said. "Be especially mindful of your children playing around the house."
Several local snow removal services specialize in clearing snow from roofs.
"That's something people might want to think about," Birch said.
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