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Forest Hills skier killed in Wyoming

Forest Hills resident Edward Fitzgerald, who died in a skiing accident in Wyoming last week, always seemed to know he was going places.

As a child growing up in Forest Hills, Fitzgerald, 46, would pore over a world atlas, memorizing the geographic and topographic details of all the worldly places to which he would eventually travel, said his father, Edward Fitzgerald, also of Forest Hills.

Despite being diagnosed with first Attention Deficit Disorder and then Asperberger’s, a mild form of autism, Fitzgerald was an extremely bright individual who majored in chemistry and became an avid outdoorsman who skied in France, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, and on some of the most difficult slopes throughout the United States.

It was during these ski trips with his father or close group of friends from his work at a Long Island post office that he seemed to most love the world, and it was during one of these outings he died.

“Eddie skydived, Eddie rode his bicycle from Forest Hills to Glen Cove, L.I., any time, Eddie could do anything,” Edward Fitzgerald said of his son, who died on his birthday. “Eddie was a very, very smart person.”

Fitzgerald died of hypothermia after he fell into a creek during a skiing trip with his friends from work in Wyoming Jan. 20, according to police. Police said he was found unconscious outside the Grand Targhee resort in an area called South Leigh Canyon, which is in Wyoming but only accessible from Idaho. He was taken to St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, Wyo., where he was pronounced dead.

The skier’s death has raised questions for the man’s father, who wants to know if rescue efforts could have been better executed. It is a tortuous thought, but Fitzgerald questioned whether if things had gone differently, could his son be alive?

“From what I understand of this situation, this shouldn’t have happened,” the father said. “Moving forward, something needs to change so that it doesn’t happen again. This can’t happen again.”

According to official reports, Fitzgerald made three cell phone calls to the Teton County Sheriff’s Office on the evening of Jan. 19 to alert police he had become lost while skiing.

Police said the calls were placed by a phone with a very poor signal.

Search and rescue members from Wyoming and Idaho as well as Grand Targhee ski patrollers immediately launched a coordinated search effort and found ski tracks believed to be those of Fitzgerald at about 10:55 p.m., the sheriff’s office said. Patrollers had to abandon their search for Fitzgerald an hour after finding the tracks because of avalanche concerns, rough terrain and poor visibility, according to the authorities. Officials from Wyoming and Idaho both joined the search because the area where Fitzgerald was is on the border of the two states

Officials continued their search on the dawn of the next day, including using a helicopter to look for the Forest Hills man, and they found Fitzgerald just before 9 a.m.

Idaho’s Valley Citizen co-editor Hope Strong first found discrepancies in the search for Fitzgerald, and the newspaper reported that “extensive debriefing has been conducted by Search and Rescue teams in both Idaho and Wyoming, but no clear reason has been made for calling the search for Fitzgerald off just after midnight Tuesday.”

The paper said the Search and Rescue team halted efforts to follow Fitzgerald’s tracks at the top of the mountain but said it was “unclear why Wyoming Search and Rescue did not resume the effort from the canyon floor.”

There appears to be confusion as to who actually should have been searching for Fitzgerald, and the Valley Citizen said coordinated efforts between Wyoming and Idaho stopped after midnight. Wyoming Search and Rescue has jurisdiction over the area in which Fitzgerald was, but they suspended their efforts and never gave Idaho Search and Rescue the go-ahead to enter South Leigh Canyon to look for the lost skier, according to the Valley Citizen.

“With Idaho having no authority to search South Leigh Canyon during the night Fitzgerald spent in the backcountry, questions lingers as to why Wyoming Search and Rescue did not engage in a further search based from the canyon floor,” the newspaper said.

Wyoming Teton County Sheriff Jim Whalen said they were investigating the circumstances around the search for the Forest Hills resident.

Hope Strong of Idaho’s Valley Citizen contributed to this report.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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