By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A 13-year-old girl who was the lone survivor of a Colorado rock slide that killed five hikers told a rescuer that her father shielded her from tumbling boulders, which likely saved her life, according to the rescuer.
The avalanche occurred on Monday along a hiking trail that leads to a waterfall in the Pike and San Isabel National Forest some 130 miles southwest of Denver.
The Chaffee County Sheriff's Office said a woman placed an emergency 911 call late Monday morning to report that she had been struck in the head by a falling rock along the trail and that five to seven people were trapped in the slide.
The first rescuer on the scene, Deputy Sheriff Nick Tolsma, told the morning television show "Good Morning America" that when he got to the scene he heard a scream, saw a hand protruding from under a boulder, and discovered the 13-year-old girl.
"She said that her dad jumped on top of her to protect her at the last moment to protect her when the rocks were coming down, and I really think that saved her life," Tolsma said.
The girl is in stable condition at a local hospital with a broken leg and other injuries sustained in the rock slide, a Chaffee County Sheriff's Office spokesman said.
So far, rescuers have not been able to recover the bodies of the girl's father and the four other hikers killed by the rock slide, Chaffee County spokeswoman Monica Broaddus said on Tuesday.
Crews are at the site, she said, but shifting rubble has made recovery efforts hazardous. "If it's too unstable, we will pull back," Broaddus told Reuters.
Authorities have not released the names of the victims, but local media reported that they were all members of a well known family in Buena Vista, Colorado.
The avalanche occurred in a rugged back country area popular with hikers near the 14,000-foot (4,267-meter) Mount Princeton, one of the so-called Collegiate Peaks in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains.
Sheriff Pete Palmer said record rainfall that unleashed widespread flooding in Colorado last month may have loosened the mountainside terrain and triggered the slide. The flooding killed eight people.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and John Wallace)