French Alps: Two skiers swept to their deaths by avalanche

Two skiers died in the French Alps on Sunday afternoon after an avalanche swept them away, mountain rescuers said.

French Alps: Two skiers swept to their deaths by avalanche
Photo: AFP

The pair, both French and in their forties, were cross-country skiing in the hills overlooking the town of Modane in the southeastern Savoie region.

The avalanche — which mountain rescuers said was triggered by the skiers at around 5:30 pm (1930 GMT) — buried them as they climbed at 2,700 metres on the western slope of the Belle Plinier mountain.

Another skier who was with them was knocked over by the sliding snow but was not buried. He tried in vain to find them before going to a hamlet below to raise the alarm.

“He lost his personal belongings in the drift and was only able to report the accident fifteen minutes later,” a mountain rescue spokesman said.

“The avalanche was apparently triggered by the trio passing,” he added.

An investigation was opened by the high mountain gendarmerie platoon (PGHM) of Modane into the circumstances.


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.