Mark Doose’s rescue, return to the slopes

Mark Doose and his mother, Barbara, stand at the airport before Mark departed for his spring semester abroad in January. 

By Masaki Sugimoto

Only a week after his rescue, Mark Doose is back on the slopes in Switzerland.

While spending his spring semester at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL), Doose — a University bioengineering student studying abroad in Lausanne, Switzerland — 

became lost during a ski trip bombarded by a snowstorm. 

“I was stuck and hiked with my skis down the ravine for a kilometer or so and then I had to cross the ravine,” he said. “The first crossing was about knee deep and then I just kept moving as fast as I could after that to stay warm.” 

Mark proceeded to hike all of Sunday and Monday, sleeping just a few hours in the snow and traveling more than three kilometers and crossing the ravine various times. Each time, Mark faced a higher water level, and on the third, a dead end waterfall. He was forced to climb up the bank approximately 100 feet and continue to travel another half kilometer.    

“That night I made a little snow hut next to an embankment and slept there for about six hours with my hands in my pants and my gloves in my armpits,” he said. “I hiked a little further until I could see a road and started yelling. 

It wasn’t until Tuesday that Mark was finally found. Passing hikers and their dogs heard his shouts and were able to help him. 

“It was incredible. When I first heard the hikers respond, I was overwhelmed,” he said. “… When the gendarmes (police) and the helicopter came it was a huge relief.”

Mark was lifted out of the snow by a helicopter and was brought to a Swiss German hospital, where he sustained only minor frostbite in his fingers and a bruised toe.

For those tense two days, Mark’s mother, Barbara, was praying and chanting throughout the nights for her son’s safety. 

“Words really can’t express the emotions…,” she said. “A parent’s heart breaks at thinking of their child going through any kind of physical or emotional pain. I still cry thinking about what Mark went through, then rejoice constantly that he survived with no lasting physical harm!”

Barbara was the one who dropped Mark off at the airport on his way to his study abroad program. It was the last time she saw him before the incident. 

During the first night of Mark’s disappearance, his parents, who reside in suburban communities of Chicago, began to panic when they had not heard from him to talk about his day on the slopes. 

Mark kept moving to keep out of the wind. He knew that the snow worked as an insulator to keep warm — survival tactics Doose learned in his Boy Scout Troop 51 that would end up saving his life.  

“Monday morning and throughout the day, we both tried contacting Mark by email, text, Facebook Messenger and telephone, without success,” Barbara said.

After getting in contact with Mark’s friends in Switzerland and realizing no one had heard from him since the day before, Barbara began to panic. Coincidentally, an avalanche had killed 11 skiers that same Sunday, leading Mark’s parents into an even bigger panic. 

Determined to find the whereabouts of her son, Barbara continued to reach out to Mark’s friends, with still no trace of Mark. 

Barbara contacted the U.S embassy in Bern, Switzerland, and was assured that had there been an accident, she would have been informed, leaving Mark’s parents unable to help their son who was over 7,000 miles away. 

After making contact with the director of the language program at EPFL, Barbara and Chuck, Mark’s father, verified that he had not made it back to French class on Monday or had returned to his dorm.  

After Chuck attempted to initiate searches through local police and ski patrols, the U.S. embassy advised Chuck and Barbara to issue a missing persons report, triggering Interpol’s involvement and an active report in Europe. 

“We were convinced for a long time that he was stranded on a mountain, but with the time and language difference, it took a long time to convince others,” she said. “Ultimately, everyone in Switzerland was a huge help, from the U.S. embassy to the EPFL contacts to the local search and rescue team (REGA) who helicoptered Mark to safety.”

Barbara said she believes the search began for Mark Tuesday morning, Illinois time, and Mark would be found just hours later at 9 a.m.  

“(Mark and I) are quite close; we have been friends since the start of our freshman year, His story definitely had an impact on me. I immediately contacted his mother and made sure he was okay and asked her to send updates whenever possible,” said Adithya Sairam, sophomore in Engineering. 

Shortly after, Barbara, Chuck and Mike, Mark’s brother, visited Mark during his recovery in the hospital. And in less than a week, Mark was out, skis back on and ready to get back to the slopes. 

“A mother will always worry,” Barbara said. “But Mark is an intelligent, strong, resourceful and courageous guy, so I know he will be careful.”

Frances can be reached at [email protected].