Avalanche traps WSDOT worker for 5 hours on Chinook Pass

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. -- A routine day for WSDOT crews clearing the snow on Chinook Pass took a sudden turn Thursday morning. Within seconds, an avalanche trapped one worker in his bulldozer. He remained stuck inside for five hours.

Tom Martinson's worked as an equipment operator for the Department of Transportation for 35 years. His experience on Thursday will surely stand out among the rest.

"Slide came over me, you know, it was a pretty good rumble," said Martinson. "And even last night when I went home, I heard a jet flying over, and I actually kind of cringed, and I could feel my heart speed up, so it took a little to get over."

Tom said it didn't take more than three seconds for the avalanche to trap his bulldozer. He considered breaking out the side window, but soon more snow came pounding down, leaving him no option but to stay and wait for help. Luckily he was able to radio the other crews and they worked quickly to dig him out.

Tom spent five hours in his bulldozer. He says the time spent in there was like a different reality.

"I thought about my wife, that she would be worried," said Martinson. "But, I thought about my dad a lot, kind of what he went through in the war, you know, stuff coming in. I can see how that can terrorize you, being under conditions without any control when you're just captive."

Tom says he used a snow pole to poke a hole in the window for ventilation, and he was happy to have his lunch and coffee to help pass the time. He does plan on going back next week to keep clearing the snow. For now, he's just happy to be alive.

"It feels great, you know," said Martinson. "I'm loving every minute of it. You know, when you think about your own demise or how it affects others, and like that, it's a humbling experience."

Officials say Tom's decision to stay inside his bulldozer was the best thing to do in that situation.

Crews are currently working to have Chinook Pass open for Memorial Day weekend.