TRUCKEE, Calif. — Search and rescue efforts Sunday and Monday for a pair of missing skiers turned up an unexpected find when Union Pacific crew members discovered a soot-covered man lying in a fetal position one mile inside Norden Tunnel 41.
“Whenever we have a search, it's standard procedure to call Union Pacific,” said Placer County Sheriff's Office Lt. John Weaver. “We ask them to slow down, because we have guys and equipment criss-crossing the tracks. We don't want our guys to get hit, and if the train slows down, it gives us an extra pair of eyes.”
The eastbound train was on alert for the skiers reported missing Sunday from Sugar Bowl Resort. It traveled at a reduced speed through the tunnel with Engineer Phillip Tufi riding on the nose of the train as an outlook.
According to a report from Tufi, after the man was spotted, the train stopped and the tunnel quickly began to fill with black, diesel engine smoke.
“If a train had come through soon before, there would have been too much smoke to be up on the nose,” said Tufi in a phone interview. “But when the tunnel is clear, you can see into the alcoves and crevices. I asked myself, if I were a skier, where would I be?”
Tufi and another crew member, Mike Weatherford, ran — ducking to avoid the smoke — back a quarter of mile. They retrieved the man and took turns carrying him to the train's head end, where the man then climbed aboard on his own accord.
Tufi described the man as a white male, emaciated, thirsty and dirty.
“He was black like he had been dipped in tar,” Tufi said. “When we picked him up, we weren't sure what we were dealing with.”
Once the train was outside the tunnel and within radio communication, train personnel contacted emergency services in Truckee.
Representatives from Union Pacific police and first responders with the Truckee Fire Protection District met the train at the Amtrak station in Truckee, and the man was then transported to Tahoe Forest Hospital in stable location, Truckee Fire's Gene Welch said.
The man was somewhat talkative when speaking to the train crew, Tufi said, but when questioned by medical personnel he communicated only with nods.
Aaron Hunt, director of corporate relations and media with Union Pacific Railroad, said the man reportedly showed signs of being hit by a train. The incident is currently under investigation by the Union Pacific police.
“I don't know how he got there in those weather conditions,” Tufi said. “It's a 12-mile climb.”
Though Tufi and his crew are employees of Union Pacific, they were operating a train owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company. BNSF was renting the tracks from Union Pacific.
Norden Tunnel 41, at more than 10,000 feet long, burrows under Mt. Judah, a mile south of Donner Pass.
According to other media reports, the PCSO reported the two missing skiers were found in good health early Monday morning at Sugar Bowl.
Weaver said the man found in the tunnel was not one of the missing skiers. No further information is available at this time.