The Jan. 2, 1952, Mountain Democrat carried a dramatic story about a fatal snow slide on Echo Summit Dec. 30, 1951. Now, over 60 years later, the two survivors, John Krek, 87, and Frank Krek, 88, are alive to tell their story.
It was a cold winter evening in December 1951. John Krek, who was working as an operator on the Snogo, noted that it was snowing and the winds were blowing hard; a pretty typical winter setting. Little did he know that he would be encountering one of the most untypical experiences of his life. John was cutting slides, which involves plowing snow so that roads can be cleared. He was about to leave work Sunday morning since his shift for the state Division of Highways was over, but then, a major slide came and blocked his path. It engulfed him, his brother Frank, and their friend Jimmy Swafford.
John Krek was in his pickup truck when the slide hit, and he was soon trapped under 5 feet of snow. Finding his radio, he called for help. As rescuers dug they eventually reached the window of his cab and finally put his hand out the window. A Catholic priest who had come to help find him pulled him out to safety. They then proceeded to dig for his brother Frank and Swafford, who had been knocked over near the snowplow. They found Frank and about 30 seconds later they found Swafford. John said when they found them they were “buried side by side.”
Frank Krek remembers himself and Swafford getting hit and being trapped by the slide. “Swafford was calling for help but I couldn’t see him,” Krek said when asked about what happened. “[I was] just trying to think of getting out of there.” Frank remained buried for more than an hour before being rescued by his brother and about 50 other men, including highway crewmen, PG&E, and telephone company and Forest Service volunteers. Frank’s survival was attributed to the fact that he had breathed an air pocket while he was trapped in the snow.
Swafford, unfortunately, broke his neck and consequently, did not survive the slide. Frank described him as a “good worker” who was his friend who is dearly missed. John recalled that Swafford was his friend and swamper, or assistant while he worked. Swafford was survived by his wife and two sons. The original news story described him as “a man of many friends” in his local county.
Despite having faced these frightening events, Frank and John have said that the accident did not adversely affect them. In fact, after only one day off, the two went back to work in the same area.
Frank said, “One of the guys didn’t want to go back [to the site of the accident]; I went back.”Additionally, John’s son was being born during the accident, and so hours after the slide occurred, John became the father of a new baby boy. This likely heightened his ability to move on from the incident.
However, now John said that he wouldn’t want to work at the site of the accident again; at least not while the technology was so rudimentary. He said that if it had not been for the radio in the pickup truck, he would not have been able to call for help, and he probably would not have survived the accident. He added that he was “glad to be alive” after the incident. “I wouldn’t want to work there again, not under the same conditions.”
The brothers’ lives continued normally. Frank worked for Placerville Lumber and for El Dorado Northern before retiring. John worked at Division Highways before retiring in 2001. Frank and John both married and have children. John’s two sons are retired firefighters, while Frank’s children, (daughter Katrina and son Chuck,) both work for Sacramento Municipal Utility District.