Minnesota fans escape runaway snowmobile at X Games

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 29, 2013 - 1:49 AM

No one was seriously hurt after a machine barreled into some netting near where a group of spectators stood.

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Near the left wheel of the pickup truck were Jeff Wittwer, of Bemidji, and his injured 13-year-old son, Trent. Both were hit by a wayward snowmobile at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo.

A couple of Minnesota dads and their sons attending the X Games narrowly escaped serious injury when a runaway snowmobile veered toward them and others after the rider bailed from his machine in mid-air attempt of a jump.

Jackson "Jacko" Strong abandoned his snowmobile at the airborne peak of his "best trick" jump Sunday night in Aspen, Colo. With the throttle stuck on the 450-pound machine, the unscathed Aussie daredevil could only watch as fans fled from the sled barreling down on them.

Protective netting with cables stopped the snowmobile, but it wasn't until Jeremy Bester, of Prior Lake, ran to the machine and applied the brakes that the danger was over.

"I tossed my kid where I knew he wasn't going to get hit and just ran and grabbed the brake," Bester said Monday, referring to his 11-year-old son, Ryley, a snowmobile racer. Strong's snowmobile was spinning its treads at "about half-throttle. It was trying to get out of the netting, but it couldn't go."

Coming away with a banged-up knee was Trent Wittwer, 13, of Bemidji, a snowmobile racer who was there with his father, Jeff.

"I tried to push him out of the way of the machine," said Jeff Wittwer as he and his son headed for the airport Monday for their flight to Minnesota. "I kinda got in front of him. . . . I think the snowmobile hit his knee. It all happened pretty fast."

The father said the snowmobile also brushed him but "yeah, I'm fine."

Strong, better known for his exploits as a motocross competitor in the Summer X Games, was hoping Sunday night to pull off his signature motocross trick, "The Jack."

As the 21-year-old mounted his snowmobile, an ESPN reporter stood next to him and explained how Strong trained for the Winter X Games in Minnesota but had put in only four hours on the machine.

"I grabbed the ... brake in the air, and it just dipped," Strong said afterward.

Strong said in an interview on his sponsor's website that he got the idea to take "The Jack" from motocross to snocross when "I was drinking one night and thought of this awesome idea. ... I also just really wanted to go to Aspen. Did a few mental practice runs in my mind, said it's possible and went for it."

Jeremy Bester said veteran snowmobile trick artists practice year-round, far more than what Strong did in preparation.

"He came back out and did another flip and crashed again," Bester said. "The engine was revving, but it was upside-down this time."

Jeremy Bester's wife, Kerrie, said "all snowmobiles come with a tether kill switch. But when [competitors] are doing tricks, they don't wear the tethers with the kill switch [because] they might get twisted up in the tether."

She said she didn't see her husband grabbing the sled's brake as anything heroic, given that the snowmobile was at a halt.

"He didn't have a cape or anything," she said.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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