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WEATHER

Mountaineer dies on Europe’s Mont Blanc despite rescue attempts

A French mountaineer died close to the summit of Mont Blanc on Friday after rescuers made several attempts to get to him in a violent storm.

Mountaineer dies on Europe's Mont Blanc despite rescue attempts
A picture taken from a helicopter on August 7th, 2020 shows the Planpincieux glacier of the Grandes Jorasses, on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif, with the Courmayeur village in the background, Val Ferret, northwestern Italy.  Andrea BERNARDI / AFP

The man, in his forties, was climbing Europe’s highest peak when he lost his way and got stuck at 4,800 metres (15,700 feet), assailed by “the storm, the wind, the cold,” rescuer André-Vianney Espinasse told AFP.

He called for help on Thursday evening.

Several helicopters attempted to rescue him but couldn’t get to him due to the weather, Espinasse said.

As a result, one helicopter dropped rescuers off lower down, at 3,200 metres, forcing them to climb the rest of the way at night.

At two in the morning, after reaching a refuge and waiting for the weather to ease, they climbed further into heavy winds.

They found the man some two hours later, suffering from severe hypothermia.

But “at 5.30, in awful winds, the mountaineer suffered a cardiac arrest,” said Espinasse.

A fresh attempt by a helicopter to lift the victim off the mountain failed once again due to the high winds.

The rescuers then decided to leave the body and get out of “this extremely dangerous area”.

A rescue helicopter from neighbouring Italy eventually managed to lift the body off the mountain.

“Going solo on high mountains should really be avoided due to all the dangers involved,” Espinasse said.

Mont Blanc is between the regions of Aosta Valley in Italy and Savoie and Haute-Savoie in France

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.

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