Avalanche: Teacher had spent time ‘in psychiatric hospital’

Reports in France claim the teacher who was in charge of a group of pupils swept away in an avalanche whilst skiing on a closed piste had spent a recent stay in a psychiatric hospital.

Avalanche: Teacher had spent time 'in psychiatric hospital'
People lay candles in tribute to the victims of the avalanche, on January 14, 2016 at Les Deux Alpes. Photo: AFP

The avalanche at the Deux Alpes resort left two pupils dead as well as a Ukrainian man who was not with the group.

The focus of the investigation by French police has been on the actions and the character of one of the teachers who was in charge of the pupils from a school in Lyon.

On Thursday the 47-year-old teacher, who was knocked unconscious by the snow-slide, was formally questioned on suspicion of “multiple manslaughter”.

The following day reports emerged in the French press that the teacher had spent time receiving treatment in a psychiatric hospital during November.

According to Le Parisien newspaper the teacher was still receiving treatment, including anti-depressant medication for the same health problems that forced him into the psychiatric hospital.

Other reports in the French media claimed he lacked authoriy.

If the reports are confirmed, then more questions will be asked about the suitability of the teacher to be left in charge of a group of pupils on a ski trip.

There were also reports on Friday that the teacher had led pupils down the same closed piste the day before the tragedy struck.

Since news of Wednesday’s tragedy broke questions have been raised about why the pupils were skiing on a black level slope – the most difficult level – when it was not open to the public.

But despite being questioned for possible multiple manslaughter the prosecutor warned against passing judgement on the teacher.

“I remind you that this teacher benefits from the presumption of innocence,” he said. “This type of disaster is a result of chain of events that needs to be defined.

“It needs to be remembered that skiing off-piste is not a crime and it’s not forbidden,” he added.


Dad’s ‘miracle escape’ after being buried by avalanche in French Alps

A man out walking with his family in the French Alps has made a miraculous escape from an avalanche after spending more than two and a half hours trapped under snow, rescuers said.

Dad's 'miracle escape' after being buried by avalanche in French Alps
Ski lifts in France are closed, but visitors and locals are free to enjoy other outdoor sports. Photo: AFP

The 50-year-old father was snowshoeing near the high-altitude Val d'Isere ski resort with his wife and two children on Thursday without anti-avalanche safety equipment.

“Thank to the mobilisation of nearly 100 people… the man was found alive after two hours and 40 minutes of searching,” the police for the local Savoie département announced on Twitter.

Because of the depth of the snow, rescue dogs were unable to detect a trace, but the man was eventually dug out by a specialised mountain police team which used a Wolfhound device to locate his mobile phone under the ice.

“I think it's a miracle,” Alexandre Grether from the PGHM rescue team told the France 3 local news channel, adding that the man was found 2.5 metres (eight feet) below the surface.

The chances of survival after more than 20 minutes in an avalanche are usually slim.

“He was protected by a tree, that's what prevented him from being crushed by all the ice that slid down. The snow had surrounded him, but he had a pocket of air,” he explained.

The victim is expected to make a full recovery after suffering a fracture to his hip.

The avalanche risk on Thursday was at its maximum – five on a scale of five – and rescuers urge people to always check the snow conditions before venturing out.

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Ski lifts in the Alps, which have seen some of their heaviest snowfalls in years in January, are currently closed because of restrictions imposed by the government to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Visitors and locals are free to enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing, but occupancy levels in hotels and chalets are way down and business owners and seasonal staff face serious hardships.

The government has promised an economic support package for the sector.