The first and most critical decision made by Stanish and Mikottis was that they would give only the most essential first-aid treatment at the scene, just enough to stabilize the injured for a quick trip by cat Or toboggan down the mountain to the Vail Valley Medical Center.
The Vail clinic is uniquely equipped to handle ski accidents—the area averages 1,400 ski injuries a season—but although the clinic can attend to routine fractures and injuries, it has no facilities for major surgery and no way of surgically treating serious head and spine injuries. Thus, when the clinic administrator. Chuck Tubbs, was told that two cars were down, he telephoned St. Anthony's Hospital in Denver. He asked it to dispatch its Flight for Life helicopters to Vail and its fixed-wing craft to nearby Eagle airport for evacuation of the injured. Because the weather was perfect, this was a matter of only 40 minutes' flying time for the helicopters, up over the Great Divide and directly onto the parking lot behind the clinic. Had there been storms over the Rockies, a caravan of ambulances and vans would have had to carry the injured to hospitals at Leadville or Grand Junction, 50 and 130 miles away.
When the first call came to the clinic at about 9:30, four doctors were seeing patients. Though they are accustomed to being interrupted to work on injured skiers brought to the clinic, it is rare that physicians are summoned to the mountain. But once the clinic knew that two cars and 12 people were down, two doctors were dispatched to the scene. Dr. Thomas Steinberg, 52, who had moved to Vail from Metuchen, N.J. in 1965, donned a parka and a pair of after-ski boots and rushed to the ambulance garage. In his bag was an extra quantity of pain-killing drugs. With him was Dr. William Holm, 38, a native of Minnesota who had moved his practice to Vail in 1971. Both rode in the ambulance to a prearranged pick-up point where Forest Road dead-ends just below the Born Free ski run. The doctors were to be met by a snowmobile or a cat, which would drive them up the mountain.
So quickly did they arrive—three minutes after the first call for help, according to Dr. Steinberg—that there was no vehicle there to transport them. After waiting a couple of minutes, a snowmobile driven by ski patrolman Lou Livingston came roaring up. Dr. Steinberg climbed on behind, and Livingston asked where he was supposed to go. "Up there!" shouted Steinberg, pointing up Born Free, and the snowmobile went bucking and snarling up the mountain. Dr. Holm waited below with a supply of back splints, a suction machine and other bulky equipment until a cat arrived to pick him up.
Dr. Steinberg estimated that he arrived at the accident scene less than 15 minutes after the cars fell. "The ski patrol was completely in control when I got there," he recalled. "By the time I arrived, they had already sent four people down by toboggan—the four worst injured. There were already eight patrolmen working plus the two doctors who happened to ski by."
Dr. Steinberg was briefed by Stanish and Mikottis: they had given narcotics to two patients, two others needed immediate treatment. Steinberg looked at Gene Reese, who had been dragged out of Car 60 with a bad facial cut and painful back, head and abdominal injuries, and vetoed a pain-killer shot because of the head injury. Steinberg then gave Steve Meoli from Car 25 a shot of Demerol, eased his dislocated shoulder into its socket, and helped ski patrolmen put a stabilizing splint on his fractured leg. All the while, the doctor was floundering about in the waist-deep snow. "It was like a bad dream," he said. "It was so difficult to move around. Then after a while I forgot about it."
The injuries suffered in the two cars were quite different. Unlike Car 60, Car 25 landed right side up, and the shock of the impact was transmitted up through the spines and internal organs of its passengers. Among the nine survivors of the two cars, there were two fractured spines, one dislocated spine, a bruised and lacerated liver and spleen, a fractured skull, a critical concussion, a dislocated shoulder and a nearly severed arm—as well as simple fractures, dislocations, bruised organs, wrenched muscles and concussions. The dead at the scene—Mrs. Darlene Reese, Karen Togtman and Janice Pasterkamp—had all been dealt massive head injuries in Car 60.
As the doctors and patrolmen worked with the injured, many skiers offered to help. Among them was Dick Pasterkamp, completely unaware that the victims included his two daughters and their friend.
He recalled, "When I heard there was trouble, I was at Eagle's Nest waiting for the girls to come up and I never thought they were involved. I skied down, saw the crowd and decided maybe I could help. I had some first-aid training years ago. I helped carry some people and load them on toboggans. I was there quite a while and I think I even helped carry Mrs. Anderson and that fellow Reese, who were with my kids. I was real impressed with the way the ski patrol handled the injured. I stayed until most everyone was out. The dead were there, but they were covered. I never thought for a moment that my kids were involved in this. I skied down the mountain and I called my wife in Dillon and said, if you hear about this on TV don't worry, it's not our kids.' That's what I told her. That's what I believed."
At about 10 a.m., Dr. Holm arrived in a cat at the base of Tower 5. Within moments, he was on the way down the mountain with two injured strapped to the vehicle. Gene Reese was groaning on a steel stretcher. Steve Meoli was in less obvious agony, probably because of the drugs he had been given. Dr. Holm recalled, "It was a terribly rough ride, straight down the mountain. The cats were very uncomfortable. I think people who were taken down on toboggans were much more comfortable." An ambulance was waiting at Forest Road to take the doctor and the two victims to the clinic.