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Snowplow Driver Lauded as Hero After Dramatic Escape

March 6, 1992

DURANGO, Colo. (AP) _ A snowplow driver who clawed his way through at least 20 feet of snow won praise Friday for spending 7 1/2 hours in an unsuccessful attempt to save his co-worker from an avalanche.

But Daniel J. Jaramillo was upset because Eddie J. Imel died, said state Department of Transportation spokesman Dan Hopkins.

″He is very distraught,″ Hopkins said. ″He doesn’t realize that he is in fact a hero for doing as much as he did to save his co-worker.″

Imel, 38, died in the avalanche that covered U.S. 550 near Red Mountain Pass in southwestern Colorado on Thursday. He and Jaramillo were among six people trapped. Four waited in a snow shelter and were rescued eight hours later.

Jaramillo, who was trapped for 18 hours, used a flashlight and a shovel to dig out of the snow, which rescue workers said was hard as concrete. He called for help and led sheriff’s officers to Imel’s body.

The two men were looking for motorists stranded by a snowstorm when they were hit by the avalanche, Hopkins said. Jaramillo told him they were swept downhill from their snowplow.

″He said that when the snow came down he was totally compacted with snow, his face was completely compressed by snow and he couldn’t talk,″ Hopkins said. ″With the flashlight he started digging ... and tried to find Eddy.″

Jaramillo found Imel alive and the two men used pliers to dig a snow cave around themselves, Hopkins said.

For the next 7 1/2 hours, Jaramillo tried to keep Imel alive by talking to him and making him move around to ward off hypothermia.

″Only when it became apparent that there was nothing more he could do for his co-worker and his friend, only then did he think of rescuing himself,″ Hopkins said.

Officials did not immediately release the exact cause of Imel’s death.

Using the flashlight, Jaramillo dug his way to the snowplow and smashed a rear window to get a shovel. He then dug through another 10 to 15 feet of snow to reach the snowshed, where he called for help, Hopkins said.

Jaramillo was hospitalized in fair condition with mild hypothermia and shock Friday.

His escape didn’t surprise his family.

″My dad said he was too stubborn to leave us,″ said Jaramillo’s sister, Michelle Sheridan of Denver. ″He is extremely stubborn and maybe that is what did it.″

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