“Hand of God” saves college prof.

Last Saturday Gilles Durand, a 53 year old college professor and director of sports at the University of Grenoble was climbing the steep couloir des Sultanes with a friend when they triggered a slab avalanche. The couloir takes it name from the large sentinel rocks that guard the entrance.

couloir des sultanes
Couloir des Sultanes

Gilles told a journalist from le Parisien “We were in a steep section with skis on our rucksacks, we felt the snow wasn’t good and suddenly I heard a sound like an explosion. We thought it was avalanche control work in the ski resort but snow started to slide between my feet, it was a snow slab. I fell backwards, was carried over a rock band and landed on my right leg, I broke the hip joint. The avalanche continued and began to fill my mouth, twice I was able to spit the snow out. Then everything stopped I could see the sun, trees,”

but Gilles’ misadventure didn’t stop there. A secondary avalanche arrived.

“it was completely black. I had the reflex to push my right arm up above me, I shouted for a few minutes, I wanted to live, get out at any cost”

les sultanes
The Sultanes see everything

His friend was unable to pick up a signal with his avalanche beacon and called the rescue services. They overflew the zone in a helicopter and spotted what they thought was a glove on the surface. A possible clue. A police rescue worker was lowered to the slide and when he went to pick up the glove was surprised that it gripped his hand.

After 45 minutes under the snow Gilles had severe hypothermia. His body temperature was just 28°C but he was alive. On Monday he celebrated his 53 years in a hospital bed in Grenoble. Obviously the Sultanes had decided to be merciful. Gilles is calling it his “hand of god”.

The avalanche risk was considerable (3/5) at the time and strong winds from the west had transported snow into the east facing couloir. There was a large avalanche in the same spot during the winter of 2002 which narrowly missed two ski tourers.

Posted by davidof on Tuesday, 02 February, 2010 at 09:00 AM

Glad to read a happy ending once in a while!

Be safe out there…

Posted by  on  Tuesday, 09 February, 2010  at 10:32 AM
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