Hit by Avalanche: No Escape

Only a couple of weeks ago on Friday the 27th of March, whilst visiting Italy, two skiers were killed on the Mont Terre Noire above Cesana in Italy. After I arrived in Italy that same day news quickly spread on the mountains of this deadly avalanche that had struck nearby in Sauze di Cesana. The victims were part of a group of heli-skiers all equipped with airbags and avalanche transceivers on a trip organised by ‘The Pure Ski Company’ on a route popular with guided groups.

The helicopters took off from the runway of Sestriere at roughly 9:30 am. On board the helicopter was two groups of four French skiers who were all advanced skiers. A few minutes later they flew over the northern ridge of Mount Black Earth at an altitude of 2,900 meters. The first group with a guide to follow, began their descent without any problems. However, just after the second group left at 10:15 am the helicopter began to raise the alarm. In the helicopter, the pilot was able to see the snow beginning to slide downstream off the mountain. The avalanche suddenly hit, a wall of ice two hundred meters wide, dragged the skiers down an infinite descent of the mountain with no escape.

Only later that morning the mountain rescue teams found the bodies of Luca Prochet and Mathieu Rich buried under a meter of snow. The safety vests, equipped with an air bag, unfortunately did not save them as the bags started to deflate. One of the casualties was Luca Prochet, 53, who was described as an ‘avid mountaineer’. The avalanche also wounded a third skier, Mathieu René Gourmeleu, a ski instructor who luckily was saved but suffered light injuries and was rushed to the Emergency Room of Susa.

Although the avalanche risk in that sector was 3 out of 5, avalanches are often unexpected and a few quick steps could help your survival.

Step one: Try and Jump up slope. Most avalanche victims trigger the avalanche themselves, and sometimes the avalanche will start right beneath their feet. If this happens, try to jump up slope, beyond the fracture line.

Step two: Let go of your heavy equipment. Try for your body to be as lightweight as possible, so let go of your backpack, poles, and other heavy equipment you may be carrying. This raises the chances that you'll be able to stay toward the surface of the snow.

Step three: Start swimming. This is essential to helping you stay near the surface of the snow. Try to stay afloat by kicking your feet and thrashing your arms in a swimming motion preferably uphill and on your back.

By Isabel Scott-Evans, Sir WIlliam Perkins's School