4 people on snowshoes taken in a natural avalanche today around 13h. 3 partially buried – minor injuries. 1 person buried for over two hours; he was found miraculously alive. Chances of survival under snow drop below 50% after 30 mins, thus the importance of autonomous ‘companion search and rescue’ with avalanche transceivers ,shovels and probes.
None had avalanche transceivers. I was one of several hundred people probing for close to two hours in an area of about around 200m long by 100m wide. The victim was found thanks to probing, some avalanche dogs alerting to the spot and especially by what has been described to me as a ‘Scanner’… it looked like a RECCO receiver from a distance of 40 metres where I stood, but I have been told that it is a fairly new device now used by the Gendarmerie rescue services. I would be interested if anyone knows what this device is and can describe it (if it’s not a RECCO receiver). ** Update 29 Jan: Thanks to the numerous messages from people enlightening me to the name of the device ‘Wolfhound -PRO Cell Phone Detector’ https://www.bvsystems.com/product/wolfhound-pro-cell-phone-detector/ **
Here is a quick written and video overview of the scene. I welcome any additional facts, evidence and intelligent observation (…we already know that it wasn’t a good idea for them to be there, but at the same time thousands of people go on closed roads and places where it is strongly advised not to go and nothing happens the vast majority of the time…. until it does. That is the nature of the hazard. Can we be better at warning people and preventing accidents like this in ‘high consequence, low validity’ risk contexts?).
Victims were on the Chemin des Coves just above the EDF ‘Avalanche Path’ Central building. The person was found on the road next to a very short steep bank just below a tree – under at least 1.5 mètres of snow.
They were on / just under steep North facing slopes on a road called the ‘Chemins des Côves’ often referred to as ‘The Avalanche Path’ approx 1850m. Danger rating at 4 several. Since the morning, several roads in the are already closed due to heavy snow accumulations (approx 40 – 50 cm in the last 48 hrs). The slopes around and just above the road they were on is around 20° (but slopes where the avalanche released above that are very steep 30°+).
Initial lessons learned: Don’t give up if you are a rescuer even if after 15-30 mins the chances of finding most people alive are not very high; Never go walking around under steep unstable slopes on a danger rating of 4 (even if most of the time nothing happens!); always wear an avalanche transceiver in avalanche terrain, train with it and makes sure your friends do too; this is proof that i’s a good idea to respect road closures and warnings of the significant danger at the moment in large parts of the Alps!
Safety is Freedom!
There’s a long list of evidence that shows how applying simple frameworks, checklists and memory aids reduce risk in ‘high consequence, low feedback’ risk contexts prevalent in: aviation, military, finance, health care, avalanche terrain etc.
See our HAT quick reference ‘Safety is Freedom Framework’ for accident reduction in avalanche terrain. The Framework is aimed at all levels of off-piste and touring: for beginners: a point of departure; for experts: a guide for further learning; for pros: it’s a great framework for client training and quick memory aid.
The Framework is best if accompanied by training such as HAT events and on-snow courses, but it’s also a useful companion for all training as it focuses on the basic key points that all avalanche training courses address – it helps you to keep focused on the essential accident reduction points.