Five skiers were caught in a Serac fall on Saturday at around 4,000 meters in the sector above the Grands Mulets refuge in the Mont Blanc massive. The skiers were a group of four Austrians and a French legionnaire who appeared to have joined the group to cover classic access route to the mountain.
The Chamonix section of the Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne (PGHM) found one of the skiers, Pier Felner a 64 year old Austrian, alive but seriously injured and suffering from hypothermia. He was transported to hospital in Geneva.
So far the body of only one of the other skiers, Welter Hoch, a guide, has been recovered at around 13h30 hours. He was buried under three meters of snow and ice. The remaining three skiers have avalanche transceivers and faint signals have been picked up which indicate they are buried much deeper beneath the debris. The sector contains a crevasse and is threatened by further serac falls and is judged too dangerous to continue with searches for the time being.
The rescuers had been using pneumatic drills and a compressor, transported to the scene by a helicopter.
The skiers has left the Grands Mulets refuge (3051 meters) at 2 am to climb to the summit of Mont Blanc. The timing and the presence of skins on the base of the skis that would found indicate that they were caught as the climbed past the icefall. The alert was given at 08h30 by a Swiss couple who witnessed the accident. The area is well known by alpinists and was considered very dangerous due to the presences of seracs.
Blaise Agresti, a captain with the PGHM, commented that because serac falls are impossible to predict passing beneath them “is a game of Russian roulette”. Alpinists try to pass the areas threatened by seracs as quickly and early as possible. It is not known if and when the search for the other three skiers will restart but it will not be for some weeks. The three missing Gustave Wirthemstatter, Ossi Knechteldorfer and the French soldier Johennas Empel.