SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — A 35-year-old man was caught in an avalanche Wednesday, Dec. 15, when he was out skiing. An off-duty Unified Fire Authority firefighter heard his cries for help and jumped in to save him. He said he was just there at the right place and the right time.

That firefighter was Tom Elbrecht who went to Neffs Canyon to go skiing with his dog. He said that the moment he heard the skier’s shouts, the first thought that crossed his mind was to get him help — and that’s exactly what he did.

The avalanche happened yesterday at the Thomas Fork area of the canyon a little before 11 a.m. The skier was reportedly buried in snow up to his chest. It was not until around forty-five minutes later that Elbrecht heard his cries for help and immediately went into action mode. 

“He was pinned against a tree. He was buried,” he said. “Getting him out was difficult because you could tell right away he had no use of his right leg.”

Even though phone reception was poor, he was able to get calls into 9-1-1 as well as his wife who knew exactly where he was and reached out to get them the help they needed. The rescue took around 8 grueling hours. Elbrecht stayed with the skier during all that time, giving him some clothes he had on hand to keep him warm and building a small shelter for him

“It was a complicated situation there. I don’t know the full details as to what happened down below, but I know it took a while for two rescuers to make their way up there,” he said.

Elbrecht said this isn’t the first time he’s been in a situation like this.

“A co-worker of mine at a ski resort in New Hampshire fell off a ski lift in the middle of the night, and I actually was with him for about four hours that night too,” he said. “Ironically enough, the jacket that was given to me to replace the jacket that was put on him was now put on the patient last night, it’s been good to me.”

It took several rescue attempts before they were able to get the skier out to safety with a sled — a moment everyone had been anxiously waiting for.

“[It was] an immense weight off our shoulders because the general feeling was that we all wanted to do the right thing without causing more harm,” Elbrecht said.

The rescue was a massive effort between multiple agencies. Elbrecht said he was grateful for them and that they were able to get that skier to safety.