3 months suspended sentence for forgetting beacon

An Austrian ski tourer has received a three month [suspended] prison sentence for the manslaughter of his wife. The case centered around the use of avalanche beacons. According to the Salzburg court he was touring with his supposedly inexperienced wife with their beacons switched off and in their rucksacks.

Fresh snow had fallen on the 17th March 2010 when the couple undertook a tour to Radstadt near Obertauern. The man told Austrian radio “We thought we’d go down a safe route. We were sure that we would not need our beacons. My wife has always trusted me”. After testing the snow-pack with other tourers the woman went on ahead with the man following behind to help in case of problems. He apparently triggered a slab measuring 80 by 250 meters which buried his wife. The slide occurred on a 35° slope the risk was given as Considerable (3/5). The lack of beacon seriously delayed finding the victim even when rescue services arrived on the scene. The 58 year old woman had suffered from serious head injuries after being buried over a meter in dense snow. The defendant’s lawyer was stunned by the verdict and said he and his client needed time to decide whether to appeal.

If the sentence is not appealed it will add to case law putting additional responsibilities on more experienced members of backcountry groups (already established in France) and could effectively mandate trail head transceiver checks, at least in Austria. One might think that losing his wife was punishment enough but the ruling may leave the man open to additional civil claims by the victim’s family.

The verdict has surprised experts

Michael Larcher, director of education of the Austrian Alpine Association has questioned the verdict. He points out that although the woman was less experienced than her husband they had been touring together for years, “she was no beginner but had enough personal knowledge to know to turn on her beacon. Given that the lack of beacon was the main reason for the verdict, in my opinion, you cannot put all the responsibility on the husband, it is an issue of personal responsibility”

Estolf Müller, representing the Austrian Mountain Rescue Service said that “judging who is experienced is legally very difficult, I’m really sceptical when the courts intervene in a private sport so long as innocent bystanders are not endangered. When you go into the backcountry everyone has to be responsible for themselves.”

Further Information


Posted by davidof on Monday, 10 October, 2011 at 01:56 PM

It still seems a silly judgement IMO:
-He may have been paid by the group, but his wife wasn’t paying
-Also personal responsibility has to come into this, his wife should have turned on her own beacon
-This man lost his wife and is now probably open to a potential civil action by her relatives
-Since his wife was not paying assumedly, come cretin/clever lawyer could try to use this as precedent
-Now every experienced skier has this potentially hanging over them when skiing with others!!!

Posted by  on  Thursday, 27 October, 2011  at 05:32 PM

”..1. Instructor was being paid to guide the group
2. Since it was a fee paying exercise avalanche protocols must be adhered to clearly this was not the case. “

“...He may have been paid by the group, but his wife wasn’t paying “

Where does it say anything in the article about the husband either being an instructor or being paid to lead the group ?

Posted by  on  Tuesday, 01 November, 2011  at 09:18 AM

How experienced was the husband? It states that as the more experienced he was at fault and they thought they were taking and easy (safe) route down, and yet the slope was 35 degrees on a grade 3 warning. They tested the slope - what does that mean? Prodded it with their poles? There are so many holes it’s frightening. Being more experienced doesn’t mean ‘has a lot of experience’ and that’s the catch. Ignorance is deadly. The implications are frightening.

Posted by Mountain Tracks on  Tuesday, 01 November, 2011  at 02:29 PM

I agree with John and Simon, the wider implications are very worrying!  I hope he appeals.  At the end of the day, I guess it shows the importance of always having your beacon on.

Posted by  on  Tuesday, 08 November, 2011  at 02:50 PM

I think the man in question was certainly guilty of being stupid and careless which resultyed in the ultimate sacrifice which will remain with him for life. Hopefully the guilty verdict, ass harsh as it may seem, will remind skiers and climbers alike to be more responsible, if not for themselves then for others in their group. If your going to be careless and take nature for granted then do it from your sitting room chair!

Posted by  on  Thursday, 15 December, 2011  at 10:58 AM
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