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Avalanche accident Kitzbühler Alps

06.02.2010


"A friend of mine (Stina S.) and I wanted to leave on Saturday from the Resterhöhe over the Stangenjoch to Aschau in Tyrol. But because of the bad visibility we got lost. In our search for the right descent, we crossed a not too steep slope facing west, which I wrongly assessed as not at risk of avalanches, and triggered a snow slab. We were both immediately knocked down. I slid sideways with my head up downhill. I can't tell you much about the first few seconds, as I concentrated fully on triggering the airbag. I immediately pulled the trigger (went without any problems) and the airbag started to inflate. The inflation was relatively fast and I now concentrated on the path the avalanche took. 

I stayed in the same position all the way (about the same as in a water slide), meaning my feet were downhill (skis not released at the beginning, one had released at the end) and I was in a half-sitting half lying position looking down. My lower body and legs were in the avalanche and my upper body and head outside. I felt that the airbag gave me some lift in the avalanche. After a few meters the avalanche went over an edge and into steeper terrain and accelerated. Nevertheless, I continued in the same position. At the bottom of the valley the terrain became flatter and tapered. There the snow accumulated and I was dug in deeper (but only to chest height). I was not whirled around in the avalanche at any moment. I noticed the balloon being pulled by the webbing, especially when the avalanche came to rest.

When I dug out my second leg I found Stina's ski at the level of my right lower leg. Luckily her binding had not triggered and so I was able to dig her out quickly without having to use the avalanche transceiver and probe. I first exposed her mouth area so she could breathe and then dug her out completely. It took approximately 6 minutes to expose the mouth area. She breathed immediately, but was unresponsive for the first few minutes. After a short time she was responding as well. In the beginning, one of her legs still hurt because she was twisted in the avalanche, but that went away after a few minutes. 

I then called for help with my cell phone. Because of the extreme weather conditions the emergency helicopter could not land and dropped two rescuers below us in the valley, who then climbed up to us. After consultation with them, we climbed up half of the avalanche cone and then dug a snow cave, as it was too dark by now and we didn't want to take any further risk. After the helicopter rescue was not possible, other members of the mountain rescue service were alerted, who ascended to us from the other side. The mountain rescue service was very well organized and we are very grateful to everyone involved for the very professional rescue. My conclusion regarding the airbag: It is impossible to say whether I would have been safely buried without the avalanche airbag, but considering the fact that I was never under the avalanche at any time, Stina was buried relatively early and I was only partially buried in the run-out area and Stina was 1.50 meters below the snow, I assume that I would have been buried too and would not have been able to free myself. Given the weather conditions and the descent we chose, I think that the mountain rescue team would have needed at least more than an hour (if not until the next day) to find us. Therefore I think that neither Stina nor I would have survived this avalanche descent without my airbag". 

Daniel B.