Snowboarder and surfer wunderkind Brock Crouch is lucky to be alive after being swept off a cornice during an avalanche in the Canadian backcountry.
The 18-year-old is currently in the hospital as his back was broken in the April 22 avalanche. The snowboarder is also missing teeth and nursing various cuts and bruises.
While his injuries are severe, it could have been a lot worse had it not been for some fellow snowboarders.
“By the time we got to him and started digging him out, he was turning a little bit blue and he wasn’t responsive, just moaning,” pro snowboarder John Jackson, who helped rescue Crouch after being buried in the snow for nearly five minutes, tells PEOPLE. “He was pretty tacoed and folded up in half. His head was by his knees and he was upside down.”
Crouch had been heli-boarding in the mountains outside of Whistler, British Columbia, with four others when the accident occurred.
The group, who were filming a snowboarding video, had just climbed out of their helicopter and were surveying the terrain before their next descent when the cornice that Crouch was standing broke loose and he immediately vanished in the churning fast-moving wall of snow.
“He probably took a thousand foot ride down the mountain,” says Jackson, a Red Bull-sponsored rider who immediately feared the worst for his friend. “It’s wild just how quickly something like this can sneak up on you.”
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When the call went out over the radio that Crouch had been in an avalanche, their helicopter pilot immediately flew back to the group and managed to locate his board sticking out of the snow from the air.
“That guy’s a hero,” adds Jackson. “Everyone started digging and we got his head out of the snow pretty quickly,” says Johnson. “His first words were, ‘Dude, I went the wrong way.’ ”
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The Mammoth Mountain, California, resident grew up surfing competitively near his childhood home in Carlsbad, California. But by 2014, he was winning major slopestyle snowboarding competitions. In 2016 he won the FIS World Cup Olympic test event in PyeongChang, South Korea, but failed to make the U.S. Olympic team for the 2018 Games.
Jackson last visited Crouch in the hospital on April 24 and claims doctors still aren’t sure if he’ll need surgery for the injuries he received to his back, which include shattered T12, L1 and L2 vertebrae. “He was in such good spirits, grinning and sticking his tongue out where his teeth once were,” he says. “He’s so lucky.”