The six most badly injured victims were now being treated in the clinic. The three less seriously hurt were wrapped in blankets and brought down on toboggans with ski patrolmen and ski instructors shepherding them. When they reached the clinic, about an hour had elapsed since the cars fell. A short time later the bodies of the dead arrived. Each was put in a separate room.
At this point, no one in the clinic knew any of the victims' names; people often don't bother to carry identification when they ski. The injured were labeled by wristbands that said "Girl No. 1," "Man No. 2," etc. The acting head nurse, Peggy Jacobsgaard, 30, whose husband Jim is a ski patrolman, had begun preparing for the victims' arrival the instant the report came through. "I just ad-libbed," she said. Dr. Steinberg said, "Peggy was the most golden of them all."
Realizing that there could be as many as (but no more than) 12 victims, Mrs. Jacobsgaard had set up an emergency ward in the clinic lobby. She had a dozen beds carried there and rolled in emergency crash carts loaded with high trauma equipment. She summoned off-duty nurses, as well as a number of retired nurses. She arranged to clear the X-ray facilities, all emergency equipment. She got out forms for tabulating the injuries and the treatments diagnosed for individual patients and organized the receptionists and secretaries to keep records on the incoming patients. As word of the accident spread through the expensive condominiums and posh apartments of the rich little resort, doctors began arriving to volunteer their services. Soon there were 30 or 35 doctor-volunteers on hand. Peggy Jacobsgaard arranged for one secretary to interview each physician, making notes on his specialty, background, emergency experience. When the first patients were brought in, Jacobsgaard assisted the clinic physicians in the "triage" duty, meaning the designation of who should be treated first, how and by which doctor.
Each patient ultimately had at least one doctor and one nurse in attendance. In a waiting room beyond the bed-filled lobby was a kind of bullpen of medical talent—some two dozen doctors drinking coffee and chatting as they waited to see if they would be needed. Some were badly needed. When it was found that Arnold Cordts' condition was rapidly deteriorating because of internal bleeding in the area of his liver and spleen, a specialist was on hand to take the case. When Gene Reese required 28 stitches to close a yawning slash across his forehead, there was a plastic surgeon to handle the sutures.
The first helicopter arrived from Denver shortly after 11 a.m. The victims who were loaded aboard were Arnold Cordts, whose internal injuries were rapidly worsening, and Carol Pasterkamp. She was in a deep coma from a blow to her head. She was unconscious, yet tossing herself about violently while doctors and nurses tried to calm her so they could take X rays. When she was finally calmed, it was discovered that inside her down parka, her right arm had been nearly amputated by some part of the car.
By noon, barely 2� hours after the accident, she and Cordts had been flown over the Rockies and were under treatment at St. Anthony's Hospital in Denver. The evacuations to Denver continued until 2:30, the helicopters landing in a parking lot behind the clinic. At one point, a press chopper dropped down, forcing a hospital helicopter to swerve off and hover while an argument between Vail officials and a reporter about "the public's right to know" ensued. Ultimately the newsman and his pilot took off, allowing the evacuation of victims to continue.
The names of the victims were not known until well into the day. Phone lines were snarled throughout Vail as hundreds of people telephoned from all over the U.S. to ask about children or friends who may have been on Gondola II. A crowd of some 200 anxious people assembled in front of the clinic, waiting for news and the names of the injured and the dead.
Gradually, one by one, the victims became known. The body of Mrs. Reese was identified an hour after it reached the clinic; by an odd quirk of fate, a retired nurse who came in to help had been at dinner with the Reeses the night before and she was able to identify Mrs. Reese. Finally, there were only the three young girls—two dead, the third in a deep coma in Denver.
Michael Carlisle, 29, the fire chief of Vail, is also the county coroner. It was his duty to identify the two dead girls. "Eventually, we figured it would boil down to a process of elimination," he said. "But that meant we might have to wait until all the cars still on the line were evacuated to see who was missing. We got a list of the girls' clothing and belongings and we wrote down hair color, eyes, height, weight and had it Xeroxed so if anyone called, we'd be able to check specifics. We took Polaroid pictures of their faces. Eventually, we knew someone would come asking about them."
After helping at the accident scene, Dick Pasterkamp had stayed at the bottom of Gondola II, hoping the girls would come down after they were evacuated from their car. "I stayed there until maybe almost two o'clock," he recalled. "I asked here and there if anyone had seen them. Finally a guy asked me if I had anybody missing, and I said, yes, I had three girls missing, but I was pretty positive they weren't hurt. See, I didn't know that they had some people still unidentified, so I never gave it a thought. I gave the fellow my name and a quick description of the girls. He left.