Rocky Mountain avalanche rocks Iowa church group

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

One member of an Ames church group caught up in the avalanche that struck a Colorado highway Saturday said a wall of snow flipped their van numerous times, but miraculously all escaped serious injury.

"We didn't have any time to react," said Jordan Cook, 27, of Ames, a graduate student at Iowa State University. "It was (like) being hit by a freight train."

Cook was driving one of four vans that members of Oakwood Road Church were traveling in, he said. His van was bulldozed from the side by the avalanche on U.S. Highway 40 near the 11,307-foot Berthoud Pass, about 50 miles west of Denver.

The van rolled over and over for about 300 feet.

"It felt like forever," Cook said. "I was just waiting to see what was going to happen to us next, wondering when it was all going to end."

He said that when the van stopped rolling, he pulled himself out of the driver-side window, which had been blown out in the tumble, and called 911.

"I'm glad I'm still here," Cook said. "I'm thanking God for saving me."

About 17 members of the Oakwood Road Church were on a ski retreat in Colorado when the vehicles they were riding in were suddenly hit by tons of snow.

Eight of the church members were taken to a hospital in Denver. Seven were treated and released, and Peter Olsen, of Nevada, a sophomore at Iowa State University, was being treated for a broken rib, said Don Johnson, the father of Darren Johnson, who was another church member on the trip.

Bev Lilly, public information officer for St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver, where the victims were taken for treatment, said seven adults and one minor were treated at the hospital.

"Everyone except one adult has been released," Lilly said Saturday night.

The injuries of the remaining victim were not life-threatening, she said.

The church's pastor, Stephen Kemp said the Oakwood congregation was initially alarmed at the news, but "very relieved there are no serious injuries."

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