Utah man given Carnegie Medal for rescuing skier buried in Neff’s Canyon avalanche

Dec 18, 2023, 1:49 PM | Updated: 2:01 pm

Thomas Elbrecht, a firefighter for the Unified Fire Department in South Salt Lake....

Thomas Elbrecht, a firefighter for the Unified Fire Department in South Salt Lake.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man will be honored with the Carnegie Medal for heroism, after saving a skier buried in an avalanche in 2022. 

Thomas Elbrecht, a firefighter with the Unified Fire Authority, will be one of 18 individuals given the Carnegie Medal for this quarter. The award is North America’s highest honor for civilian heroism.

Thomas Elbrecht, a firefighter for the Unified Fire Department in South Salt Lake talks to KSL TV in the days following the rescue.

A heroic rescue

On Dec. 14, 2022, 35-year-old Travis Haussener was backcountry skiing in Neff’s Canyon when, all of a sudden, the slab broke loose, creating an avalanche 200 feet wide, and two feet deep. The loose powder surged downhill and completely enveloped Haussner. He was slammed against a tree and pinned there until he was buried up to his chest with only his arm and head above the snow.

Elbrecht, an off-duty firefighter, was scouting out a safe spot to ski in Neff’s Canyon when he heard Haussener’s cries for help.

The 31-year-old followed Haussener’s tracks to the bottom of the avalanche debris and hiked up the slope to where he was buried. Elbrecht dug out Haussener, called 911 for help, and then called his wife to let her know what was going on.

Haussner had a broken femur and other injuries that prevented him from being able to get down the mountain, so the two huddled together until rescuers could reach them.

‘I thought that was the end’, Man describes surviving Neffs Canyon avalanche

Elbrecht used a ski pole as a makeshift splint to stabilize Haussener’s leg and created a snow bench to rest on. Elbrecht removed some of Haussener’s wet clothes and provided him with dry clothes, including an extra down jacket he’d packed with him.

A rescue helicopter responded but was unable to rescue Haussener because of the slope and closely packed trees. Eventually, two rescuers hiked up to where the two were sheltering and Elbrecht helped lower Haussener to a spot where he could be moved, first by toboggan, and then by snowmobile, to a waiting ambulance.

The two were off the mountain, and Haussener was transported to the hospital at approximately 7 p.m.

They had huddled together for over seven hours.

Haussener spent several days at the University of Utah hospital with a severely fractured femur, a broken right arm, and broken ribs.

Elbrecht was cold and hungry but otherwise uninjured in the incident.

The award

“The Carnegie Medal is given throughout the U.S. and Canada to those who enter extreme danger while saving or attempting to save the lives of others,” a release from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission stated.

The award was established by philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie in 1904. Since it was established 119 years ago, the fund has awarded nearly $45 million in one-time grants, death benefits, scholarship aid, and continuing assistance.

Awardees are chosen each quarter. Each recipients or their survivors will receive a financial grant.

The organization explained that Carnegie organized the Fund following the Harwick mine disaster near Pittsburgh in January 1904, which killed 181 people. The victims of the event included an engineer and a miner who went into the mine in a valiant attempt to rescue others. Carnegie was so touched by their sacrifices that he promptly set to work on creating an award for heroism.

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

Two boys hugging and smiling....

Cary Schwanitz and Karah Brackin, KSL TV

Witnesses testify in hearing for man charged in crash that killed Eagle Mountain toddlers

Witness testimony started Friday in a preliminary hearing for a man charged with murder in the deaths of two Eagle Mountain toddlers in 2022.

43 seconds ago

mother and daughter sit at a table...

Emma Benson

Eating Disorders Awareness Week: How to recognize the signs and get help

Carrie Jackson said when the pandemic hit, her daughter, Emma, started showing signs of an eating disorder.

37 minutes ago

FILE (Photo: Baileypalblue)...

Eliza Pace

Powder Mountain announces closure Friday night, Saturday due to ‘extreme winds’

Powder Mountain announced they would be closed for night skiing on Friday, March 1, and closed for day skiing on Saturday, March 2.

1 hour ago

A rendering of a new Utah Jazz/National Hockey League arena in Salt Lake City that team owner Ryan ...

Carter Williams, KSL.com

Utah lawmakers pass bill for new downtown NBA/NHL arena after last-minute changes

Utah lawmakers have approved a bill that paves the way for a new arena in downtown Salt Lake City that could be the home of the Utah Jazz and a potential National Hockey League team.

3 hours ago

President Stuart Adams speaks at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday. The Senate on Thu...

Bridger Beal-Cvetko, KSL.com

Clergy protections for child abuse reporting approved by Utah Legislature

The Utah Senate on Thursday approved HB432, which provides legal protection to clergy members who voluntarily report ongoing child abuse or neglect from confessions.

5 hours ago

The defense and procuration meeting in Provo’s Fourth Judicial District Court with Judge Kraig Po...

Garna Mejia and Michael Houck, KSL TV

Trial for man charged with killing Provo officer set to resume after failed motion to dismiss

A judge has denied a last-minute motion to dismiss the case against the man accused of killing Provo police officer Joseph Shinners.

6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Utah man given Carnegie Medal for rescuing skier buried in Neff’s Canyon avalanche