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3 March 2017

Italian Alps Avalanche Kills Three Skiers and Injures Others in Tragic Incident

Yesterday, a killer avalanche hit the northern Italian Alps with force, sadly causing three deaths and leaving several others injured.

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The avalanche was triggered at Plan de la Gabba at around midday, occurring in a valley close to Mont Blanc, Val Vény. The skiers were said to be in an off-piste area on fresh snow when the avalanche hit; those injured were rescued by helicopter.

Five of the injured were dug out of the snow and flown to safety by emergency helicopter, being sent to Umberto Parini hospital in Aosta, as reported by The Telegraph. One unidentified injured skier was in intensive care at the hospital, according to ANSA, an Italian news agency. The skiers are known to be from Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Italy, as said by rescue teams yesterday.

The tragic deaths were those of a Belgian, an Italian and a German, said to have been part of a group of around 20 skiers in total.  Val Vény - the site of the incident - is close to Courmayeur on the slopes of Mont Blanc, and is renowned for the high difficulty of its ski slopes.

The above tweet from the National Mountain Rescue Corps (CNSAS) was sent out on March 2nd while the rescue operation was on-going, translating to “Two # avalanches in Aosta Valley: death toll rises to three in Val Veny. Two still missing skiers in Colle San Carlo. Work continues.”

It was initially feared that several of the group were missing, but the Guardia di Finaza confirmed to the Telegraph that the search had concluded and no individuals were missing or unaccounted for, after two helicopters and search dogs were sent to the scene in the hours following the avalanche.

The first 24 hours after heavy snowfall is where the avalanche risk is at its highest. This time of year in particular is at high risk, with heavy snowfalls and strong winds, making the risk rating 3 out of 5. Slopes over a 30 degree angle are most dangerous, with those at 35-45 degree angles being at highest risk of avalanche. Convex slopes - those which terrain resembles the roundness of a sphere, going from decreased to increased steepness - are more likely to experience avalanches compared to concave slopes.

If you’re caught in an avalanche, Snow Safe gives advice for what to do;

The size and power of the avalanche will determine the ease or not of these tasks:
  • You should, if possible, try to ditch your backpack and poles, as their extra weight can drag you down.
  • You should always try to stay on the surface of the avalanche. The best way to do this is to use a swimming motion.
  • If you are near the surface when the avalanche is stopping try to thrust a part of your body to the surface to give the searchers a visual clue.
  • If you are buried you should try to create yourself an air pocket before the snow sets. The best way is to use your fists in a punching motion around your face. The snow can set extremely hard after an avalanche so this will be a crucial help to your survival.

Laura Sewell

An aspiring journalist, Laura is our content writer intern.  Pop-punk gig-goer and drag queen enthusiast, Laura is working her way into the industry, with an English A -Level and love of writing about anything and everything in tow.