A complicated and extensive search and rescue operation for a couple of missing snowshoers above the commune of Laus near Briançon in the Hautes-Alpes has recovered the bodies of the victims close to the Col de l'Izoard. The search operation involving the CRS reinforced by teams from the PGHM and Fire Service has been hampered by poor weather, fresh snow and risk of secondary avalanches.
The avalanche rescue dog and probe teams were deployed on the east face of the Arpelin and above the bergerie du Balais, scene of a fatal avalanche last week. Streams were also checked. 40cm of fresh snow has fallen in the area since the couple were reported missing yesterday. The poor weather has stopped rescue helicopters from flying. The couple are from the Grenoble area.
Press release from Raphaël BALLAND, State prosecutor for the Gap high court:
"During the night of 15-16th February 2015 the Briançon police received a call from a young woman worried that her 52 year old parents, living in Grenoble, had not returned from a snowshoe tour which they'd planned during the day on the 15th.
Advised of the situation at 23h45 the authorities in Gap opened a missing persons inquiry and immediately asked the CRS des Alpes, based in Briançon to assist.
Geolocalisation of their mobile phones enabled the couple's car to be located in a car-park in the commune of CERVIERES (Hautes-Alpes) around 02h40.
A large search operation was put in place under the direction of the CRS des Alpes in Briançon. This consisted of 9 ground based teams with 4 dogs. The difficult weather conditions precluded the use of helicopters.
It was only in the afternoon that the body of a man was found under a large avalanche under the Col Perdu on the side above the refuge de Napoléon in the direction of the col d'Izoard.
The search was suspended at nightfall on the 16th and will begin again in the morning to try and find the woman in conditions that are difficult for the rescue workers, in particular a high risk of secondary avalanche."
Mr Balland added that phone records indicated they had left the car park at 10h35 and were buried by the avalanche at 14h15. The weather, route and avalanche conditions meant the choice of tour was "completely unreasonable." The slide that buried the two snowshoers was 500 meters wide. Neither of the victims was wearing an avalanche beacon. The avalanche risk was 3/5 on Sunday but the risk was raised on Monday morning to 4/5 in the sector by Meteo France following heavier than expected snowfall.
In the video Captain Cousins describes how they had to search a number of routes which was very time consuming, finally focussing on a large avalanche under the Col Perdu.
This brings to 13 the number of people who have died in avalanches in the Hautes-Alpes this winter, 27 in France as a whole with 2 others missing presumed dead.
A 40 year old off piste skier was caught by an avalanche in the Cibouit sector of Serre Chevalier on Saturday at around 16h30. The skier was injured after being taken over cliffs and was fortunate to have only been partially buried by the avalanche debris. The ground based rescue operation took 4 hours. ropes had to be fixed to access the victim who was suffering from back, head and leg injuries.
Meteo France has upped the avalanche risk for the Queyras to 4/5 on Monday morning.
Monday 16th February 2015
A group of skiers belonging to the French Alpine Club (CAF) from Lyon where caught by an avalanche during a ski tour from Nice to Briançon. The avalanche risk was 4/5 coupled with poor weather on the route. The avalanche happened at 10h15 near to the Col de la Bonette in the La Pra sector and took three members of the group which was accompanied by two CAF leaders. None of the skiers were injured by the slide. The PGHM had to launch a ground based rescue due to the poor weather.
Tuesday 17th February 2015
A family of walkers were caught by a purge down an avalanche couloir on Tuesday afternoon above the ski resort of Gourette. The incident occured at 17h00 on a road closed to pedestrians and cars due to the avalanche risk. Two people were injured and taken to hospital in a major search operation. Gourette had two ski lifts put out of action earlier this year by a large avalanche.
The body of the director of Vulcania in the Massif Central has been been found dead in the Chaudefour valley in the Sancy range. It appears she had fallen over cliffs while hiking.