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Posted: October 01, 2013

Teen girl lone survivor in rock slide that killed 5 family members

P. Solomon Banda
Chaffee County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Everson, right, and other deputies walk out the Agnes Vaille Falls trail shortly after leaving the scene of a rock slide that killed five people Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, in Chaffee County, Colo. Deputies who reached the area rescued a teenage girl who suffered a broken leg but had to pull back after rocks kept falling from a cliff and a boulder field with rocks estimated at weighing more than 100 tons began shifting. Rescuers were to return to the site Wednesday. (AP Photo/P. Solomon Banda)

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            Teen girl lone survivor in rock slide that killed 5 family members
Chaffee County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Everson, right, and other deputies walk out the Agnes Vaille Falls trail shortly after leaving the scene of a rock slide that killed five people Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, in Chaffee County, Colo. Deputies who reached the area rescued a teenage girl who suffered a broken leg but had to pull back after rocks kept falling from a cliff and a boulder field with rocks estimated at weighing more than 100 tons began shifting. Rescuers were to return to the site Wednesday. (AP Photo/P. Solomon Banda)

By Cox Media Group Web Staff

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Authorities say the five people who were killed and a girl who survived a Colorado rock slide were members of the same family.

Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze said Tuesday the family was from Buena Vista, Colo. Their names and ages haven't been released.

A deputy said Gracie Johnson, the 13-year-old survivor, told him her father shielded her with his body as the rocks roared down, according to ABC Denver.

The Monday morning slide sent 100-ton boulders onto a viewing area to see Agnes Vaille falls in Chalk Creek Canyon below Mount Princeton, a 14,197-foot peak.

Authorities now say the five hikers killed were all from Johnson's family. She suffered a broken leg and other injuries and was flown to a Denver hospital.

"I heard a scream next to me — I saw a hand sticking out underneath the boulder," Chaffee County Deputy Nick Tolsma said on Good Morning America "The true hero is her dad. She said her dad jumped on her to protect her at the last moment when the rocks were coming down. I think he saved her life."

Witnesses said some of the boulders were the size of cars.

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Rescuers had to wait until Tuesday afternoon to remove the bodies of the five who were killed, said Chaffee County department spokeswoman Monica Broaddus. 

The recovery was called off Monday evening because rocks continued to shift when the coroner counted the fatalities, Broaddus said.

Four of the bodies can were recoverable using hand tools, but special equipment was needed to dislodge a huge boulder and retrieve the fifth body, said David Noltensmeyer of the North End Search and Rescue team.

Initially it was not known if the victims were from a single group.

A female hiker who heard the slide ran down the trail and called for help, said Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze.

The area had a rainy summer and a recent snowfall, said Chaffee County Undersheriff John Spezze. It was too soon to know whether the weather prompted the slide, which left a football-field-sized gash in the mountainside, he said.

"It was totally unexpected. It caught everybody by surprise," Spezze said.

The trail is one of the first hikes recommended to people new to the area and is also popular with tourists, said Margaret Dean, a regular hiker who has hiked the trail with her 7-year-old grandson.

Dean, a copy assistant at The Mountain Mail newspaper in Salida, said the trail is easily accessible and provides a view of the falls and the Chalk Creek Valley in the Collegiate Peaks, which contains many mountains over 14,000-feet tall.

Agnes Vaille, the waterfall's namesake, was a Denver mountaineer who died in 1925 while attempting a difficult winter climb of Longs Peak, elevation 14,259 feet.

The U.S. Forest Service maintains the trail. Spezze said officials have asked the Forest Service for a permanent closure.

The Forest Service says the trail got medium to heavy usage. The trailhead lies across from Chalk Lake campground and is near the St. Elmo ghost town, a popular stop for tourists in Colorado's central mountains.


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