Walker found alive after hours under snow in Alps avalanche

A man has been found alive in the French Alps after being buried for several hours under 2.5 metres of snow after being hit by an avalanche during a walk with his family

29 January 2021
By Hannah Thompson

More than 100 rescuers spent 2 hours 40 minutes searching for the man, who was buried under 2.5 metres of snow after an avalanche in Val d'Isère, a ski resort in Savoie, on January 28.

The family - a couple and their two children - had been on a cross-country “raquette” snow-shoe walk.

The man was buried by a surprise avalanche that the family had not heard coming, with his wife and two children managing to escape. They immediately raised the alarm.

Gendarmerie had to use vehicles to reach the area, as the usual rescue helicopters could not take off due to the adverse weather conditions. Local rescuers headed to the scene, joined later by more emergency services.

Alexandre Grether, deputy at mountain gendarmerie service le Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute-Montagne (PGHM) in Savoie, told local news service France 3: “We quickly had around 100 people [searching]. There were gendarmes, skiers, firefighters, but also mountain guides and ski teachers who were on the mountain.”

But despite the number of searchers, the rescue was not straightforward, as the lost man was not wearing an avalanche victim transceiver - known in French as a Détecteur de Victimes d'Avalanche (DVA) - and even the rescue dogs could not find a trace.

As a result, the PGHM gendarmerie decided to use the “Wolfhound system”, which can detect mobile phone signals.

Mr Grether said: “Usually, we use it to find people who are lost in the forest. This was one of the first times we have used it for an avalanche.”

All people present were asked to turn off their mobile phones, and the team then began patrolling the area using the Wolfhound device. It was then that they detected a signal, and were able to dig through the snow to rescue the man.

After 2 hours and 40 minutes of searching, the father was “miraculously” found alive, and taken care of by emergency teams.

Mr Grether said: “He was sheltered by a tree. That is what stopped him from being crushed by all the stuff coming from above. The snow had surrounded him but he had an air pocket.

“The French mountain rescue team have shown their ability to save human life. The support of all the professionals paid off. We are very proud to have reunited a Dad to his children and wife.

“I think it’s a miracle.”

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