It was an exceptional rescue that was undertaken by the men of the Isère High Mountain Gendarmerie (PGHM) this week
(28th February, 2007)
30 year old Thomas Murphy, an English snowboarder, owes them his life. It all began on Wednesday at the end of the afternoon when the boarder, on holiday with friends in the ski resort of les Deux Alpes got disoriented in the ski domain.
“I got lost in bad weather while skiing down the glacier of les Deux Alpes. The visibility was zero and I was first of all hit by an avalanche”. Murphy told reporters adding that he was lucky not to have been buried. “Seeing as I couldn’t climb back up I jumped the first cliffs which were about 30 meters”. He was stuck for two hours before deciding to jump a second cliff of 20 meters where he ended up trapped on a ledge of about 30cm, below him 300 meters of thin air. Shocked and on the verge of hypothermia Murphy remained semi conscious for around three hours in this precarious spot, the well known Muretouse ice fall at 1500 meters altitude above the lac du Chambon.
He finally recovered his composure and taking out his mobile realized that he had managed to get a faint signal which he didn’t have higher up. Not knowing the French rescue services number (112) he called one of his friends. They had already notified the Gendarmerie at les Deux Alpes but now they had an idea where to find their missing friend..
It was now around midnight. The PGHM realized they had to act quickly fearing that Thomas wouldn’t last the night. They sent a car up the RN91 and were attracted by the light of Murphy’s mobile phone screen. The PGHM contacted the Securite Civile based at l’Alpe d’Huez. It was a clear night and weather conditions were good. However the helicopter based at l’Alpe d’Huez is an aging Alouette III; unlike the modern EC145 it has neither night vision nor an infra-red camera but it is equipped with a powerful searchlight. It was still Thomas’ best hope for a speedy rescue The pilot and mechanic decided to make the attempt, flying by instruments they were guided to the scene by the flashing blue lights of the Gendarme’s car.
Thomas continued to flash the light of his mobile phone into the clear night air. Remi Fiorillo the pilot said that he could see his phone from over a kilometer. Thomas recalls “When I saw them come, I was afraid that they would make me fall from my small platform with turbulence from the copter”. Without the normal visual clues of daytime Fiorillo positioned his aircraft above the Englishman, rotor blades just meters from the cliff face. A delicate operation. Flight engineer, Emmanuel Larat winched Gendarme and high mountain guide Herve Labarde down to the stricken man. He managed to get a harness onto the young snowboarder but it was not possible to winch them into the helicopter. Instead they were suspended from the cable and flown down to the police car.
Thomas Murphy is almost unscathed but won’t forget this alpine adventure soon. “I had started to call my girl friend, my brother, my sister, my mother and my father to say to them that I loved them, because I really thought I was going to die. The people who saved my life are heros, supermen. angels”
Very sobering stuff. Scary how easy it was for the English snowboarder to find himeself lost in what should have been a routine run back to the resort.
I have just saved the French Rescue service number in my phone memory!
Hey its Tom Murphy, the 30yr old boarder who nearly died if it wasnt for the skill and bravery of the guys above. Hopefully Herve should be joining me in London so I can repay the favour of saving my life. All I can say is that “ all the simple things in life should not be taken for granted. Its only when you really believe that you are going to die that, all you want is to do is to see,hear,taste smell all these very simple things just one more time, and that appreciating all the great things that might have seemed boring and mundane at some point “
Do you have all the details of what happened when I was involved in the avalanche/13hr rescue?
If so could you please email me on
Tom Murphy Boarder Les Deux Alpes Feb-March 07