Sunday, March 19, 2023

Swiss Avalanche: Complete Burial and Rescue

In 2015, James Mort, Daniel O’Sullivan, Andrew, and Leonard went skiing on a meter of new snow in the Alps on the Swiss/French border. Mort was in front when a avalanche buried him. The whole story is here.
As the snow piled higher and higher, It became darker and darker until I was surrounded by an eerie black silence, broken only by the sound of my slow breathing and racing heartbeat.
"Okay" I thought to myself;
"You’re dead."
I had a shovel and probe in my backpack and I was wearing a transceiver, however, the others were only carrying a shovel and probe. I was convinced that they would not find me in time. Unable to move I focused on slowing my breathing, relaxing and conserving oxygen. I felt bizarrely emotionless and wondered for a moment what death would be like. Then I remembered that I was reaching upwards with my left arm, ski pole still attached. I tried to wiggle my hand and I felt a ‘pop’ as the top 5cm of the pole broke the surface of the snow. Suddenly emotion flooded through me as I realised that Andrew, Dan and Leonard would be able to locate me under the snow if they saw the tip of the pole. However I still forced myself to remain calm as I sat in wait.
O’Sullivan was wearing a GoPro on his helmet and captured the action. (via reddit)


Anonymous said...

I see a lot of mistakes made here, but they got the most important part right.

xoxoxoBruce said...

Edumacate me because I don't have a clue about this stuff. What did they do wrong besides I think taking the gloves off?

Not an expert but done avy training said...

They got him out which is great. They agreed neither had a transceiver immediately, so didn't waste time. They spotted the waving pole which was brilliant.

What if the pole wasn't visible? What else could they have been doing?

- It looks like they may be in a resort. Did they call Patrol? Expert help could have been there in under a minute.

- If you ride regularly in a group which goes off piste, the whole group should have the self rescue equipment (transceiver, shovel, probe) and have had some training to use them all. No use having just one guy with a transceiver.

- Agree on where James was last spotted. Did they immediately do a scan for debris (poles, gloves, skis)?

- Shush and listen for him yelling

- His fiddling with the shovel wasted half a minute and he should have been searching not pulling out equipment. It is better to have pockets that rip open immediately for access than a complicated series of clips. Know your equipment. I ditched an (expensive) collapsing shovel after the first practice and got a bigger two piece shovel.

- Once victim location is found, EVERYONE ELSE start assembling shovels while the fine search + probe is going on. Lots of tutorials on doing this but nothing helps like doing a proper Avalanche Level 1 course or equivalent.

- Once victim location is found, probe to see how far down the burial is. Then go down the slope the same distance and dig in horizontally. If you dig vertically, the snow collapses down into the shaft, and it's harder to swap out diggers when lead digger get tired. If he's injured, it gives you a shelf to pull him out onto. Agree however it's a judgement call, if they thought James was only a little way down better to get his air access cleared asap than follow best digging procedure.

- One metre down is 1 ton of snow to be cleared. 2 metres down is 4 tons. James looked like he could be 1.5 metres down so 2.25 tons.

- Dig with a single lead digger who is going at 100%, swap round every minute, everyone else in a fan behind helping to clear the snow backwards. You're having to move a LOT of snow.

- Did anyone call Patrol? (yes, again, check someone actually made a call!)

- All of this needs to happen within eight minutes of burial. After that, the chances of survival drop fast.

Sorry for the long post. It's as much a refresher for me as helping you guys understand!

Miss Cellania said...

Wow, thanks, not an expert!

Anonymous said...

#1 Mis-assesment of avalanche risk, and/or poor route planning
#2 People in group without beacons
#3 Lots of things mentioned in the excellent post above, many of which are related to training/practice or procedure readiness.
#4 Hooray for the outcome!

xoxoxoBruce said...

Yes yes, thank you very much! I had no clue how to handle that sort of thing, your response was excellent. I'm sure they were pumping maximum adrenaline which makes clear thinking harder.