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Afton native found dead in Wyoming mountains

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Gregory Seftick, the Afton native gone missing in Grand Teton National Park while skiing, was found dead Sunday.

Seftick and his skiing partner, Walker Pannell Kuhl, were found buried under 15 feet of snow near a large boulder, according to Jackie Skaggs, public affairs officer for the National Park Service. The location was within avalanche debris in Garnet Canyon Meadows in the park.

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"It was a pretty dramatic find," Skaggs said.

Seftick was a 1998 graduate of Stillwater Area High School and was living in Columbia Falls, Mont. Kuhl, 30, was living in Salt Lake City.

On April 16 Seftick and Pannell Kuhl skied into Garnet Canyon where they intended to camp one night. Skaggs said the last sighting for the two men was about 3 p.m. that day when another group came across them.

The search began Monday, April 18, when neither man appeared for work.

Search operations involved park rangers and staff, as well as numerous Jackson Hole community rescue personnel. Search teams continued their efforts through Wednesday, but on Thursday and Friday, teams had to be brought in because of severe winter weather, Skaggs said.

As of Wednesday, Skaggs said the National Park Service believed that the men were probably under a large avalanche field at the base of Garnet Canyon.

"We had come to the difficult conclusion that we probably weren't going to find them alive," she said. "We had a lot of people searching every nook and cranny, but unfortunately it was too late."

On Saturday, roughly 35-search team members and four dog teams were out searching the avalanche debris.

"We were using the good weather to do as thorough a complete of search that we could," Skaggs said. "But a person is a speck against the backdrop of vast and rugged mountains."

It was late Saturday, just about an hour before all search teams were set to be brought in, when a local ranger picked up a beacon signal from beneath the debris.

"He was trying to make one last sweep," Skaggs said.

Seftick and Pannell Kuhl carried avalanche beacons and other appropriate gear with them on their trek into the Teton Range, Skaggs said.

Search teams were able to dig about five feet into the hard compacted snow. The team then used a 10-foot probe pole to see if anything was under the debris.

The pole hit something under the debris.

"They knew they had something other than snow," Skaggs said.

Since it was late in the day, teams had to call in their search until Sunday morning.

After digging through the avalanche debris, teams were able to uncover a tent, which housed Seftick and Pannell Kuhl.

"They found Greg and Walker in their sleeping bags," Skaggs said. "They had tucked in for the night, but sadly it was with the path of this large avalanche."

Skaggs said the avalanche is believed to have occurred Saturday night after increased snowfall had accumulated on Nez Perce Peak.

"They're steep mountains with a lot of snow on them and Saturday it was the tipping point," she said.

Skaggs said locating Seftick and Pannell Kuhl brought closure to the families and the search since there had been no sign of the two men for six days.

There have been previous instances of people dying due to avalanches at Grand Teton National Park, she added.

"It's not common, but it's not rare," she said.

Skaggs said both families have expressed their appreciation to all of the search efforts.

"They've been taking this whole ordeal relatively well, or as good as can be expected," she said. "This is a difficult reality to accept.

"It is definitely a tragedy because these two wonderful young men have had their lives cut short just because they were in a wrong place at the wrong time."

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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