Two Missing After Mont-Blanc Avalanche

A large search and rescue operation has been put in place by the high mountain police (peloton de gendarmerie de haute montagne) in Chamonix this afternoon after a large slab avalanche hit two climbers descending the North face of the 4,248 meter Mont-Blanc du Tacul. The avalanche occured at 3,900 meters altitude and measured 200 by 150 meters and between 30 to 50cm thick.

Rescue workers searching the crevasse

The search is centering on a crevasse some 80 meters deep. The avalanche debris has been piled up to a depth of around 25 meters at the top of the crevasse. Rescuers are using shovels and dogs but their is little hope of finding the climbers alive. The two missing men are a 55 year old guide from the Compagnie des Guides in Chamonix and a Dutch client in his thirties.

A witness saw the two climbers descending the slope and reported the incident around 14h00.  Thirty rescue workers, a helicopter team and two avalanche dogs were on the scene today but have found no trace of the missing alpinists. The route is not normally considered dangerous although there has been a lot of snow accompanined by wind over the previous days.

Climbers rarely carry avalanche transceivers seeing snow slides as farely low on the spectrum of risks that they face. Three climbers were killed in France last winter.  Two Italiens were killed climbing a couloir close to Briançon in April and a young Spaniard was killed climbing at Gèdre in the Pyrénées.

An analysis of off-piste and backcountry accidents for 2003/2004. PDF format, 820kb.

Posted by davidof on Saturday, 10 July, 2004 at 06:12 PM

The search operation was suspended on Sunday afternoon due to deteriorating weather conditions. 15 people had been working in relays. They have dug 6 meters into the crevasse and probed a further 4 meters. Around 20cm of fresh snow is expected on Monday.

Update 15 July.
The bodies of the two avalanche victims were recovered today by searchers.

Posted by davidof on  Sunday, 11 July, 2004  at 09:19 PM
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