Posted on: 2014-03-27 14:49:43 by davidof

The death of a guide

It was a bright clear spring day at the end of April on Mont Blanc. A party of skiers and their guide stood admiring the scenery at 4300 meters on the Col du Dome. They intended to ski down to the valley. The sun shone on the pristine snow glistening like a million diamonds but Serge Santi, from the St Gervais Guides Bureau, would never see it set.

They set off, the deep powder flew under their skis almost covering them. Laying perfect tracks in the white desert. The guide in front, strong and at ease, happy that his clients were enjoying themselves. Finding the best route, stopping from time to time to let his guests catch their breath and to point out the magnificent summits and glaciers that surrounded them. They skied the Petit Plateau in less than an hour, the girls with their smiling, tanned faces, the boys showing off. The guide made a wide sweeping left hander and disappeared up to his shoulders; a hand grabbed frantically at the snow, trying to find grip then he vanished, without a word. His panicked friends approached the dark hole and called in vain. The guide had their only rope, they were helpless. It was decided that two of the group would ski down to the Grand Mulets to summon help, it was 10am.

Serge was unlucky to ski over a crevasses lengthways. The weak snow-bridge ruptured and he fell 30 meters, the icy walls narrowed and the guide slid face down, like a coin; but he wasn’t hurt; he was conscious and could talk. Two German skiers who were climbing to Mont Blanc came to the aid of the group. One was lowered into the icy prison. They couldn’t get to Serge, he was too deep, but they lowered two ropes that he, with some difficulty, managed to tie, so they thought, around his wrist and foot. Trapped by his skis, blocked by two oppressive ice walls, Serge had difficulties breathing and began to grow cold. The heat from his body was enough to melt the surface of the ice. Lubricated by the melt-water, little by little he slipped further into the abyss.

At 13h30 the PGHM helicopter, which had been at Lyon, brought six rescue workers in three rotations to the Petit Plateau. Very quickly the awful truth dawned on them, they could not reach Serge, the crevasse was too narrow. They would have to cut a passage through the hard ice with a climbing axe. An impossible task, suspended on a rope, sideways in the hole to gain room, with just enough space to swing the left arm. The aim was to get a rope to Serge because those dropped by the Germans hadn’t held. The task was desperate, each rescuer taking short turns because of the difficult, claustrophobic and tiring position.

Serge Santi was aware of his situation. He knew he would die, he quickly understood that the guides and rescue workers who were trying to save him were working in vain. They were still two meters from him, it was a race they would certainly lose. Facing down, blood ran to his head, he drifted in and out of consciousness. The noise of the axe against the ice, shouts from the rescuers, shook him out of his stupor. The rescuers were a meter from his head now. Serge was rambling, he repeated to himself “I don’t mind dying in the mountains, if it is quick, lightening or rockfall, but not in a crevasse”, but otherwise he didn’t complain, no cries of despair. He accepted his fate, the ultimate sacrifice to the job he adored. A testament to the courage of the man and guide. The rescue workers would long remember him. Finally one of them was able to stretch out and reach the guide’s head, he turned it towards him. 30 year old Serge Santi was dead, it was 16h30.

They only recovered his body the next day at 17h30 after 16 hours of work. They had to bring in heavy tools, a winch and cable to pull his body free.
JJ Mollaret - Au dela des Cimes.