Austrian skier buried under avalanche for 5 hours survives | News | DW | 26.12.2019
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Austrian skier buried under avalanche for 5 hours survives

Authorities have called his survival a "Christmas miracle." Thanks to a fortuitous air pocket, a skier survived for five hours after being buried by an avalanche.

A young skier survived five hours buried beneath an avalanche in Austria, emergency services reported on Thursday.

Family and friends tried to contact the 26-year-old after he failed to return from an off-piste trip in the Styrian mountains. Calls to his phone yielded only "crunching noises," police said in a statement.

Emergency services launched a large-scale rescue effort late Wednesday afternoon, involving about 20 mountain rescue workers, alpine police officers and a group of avalanche dogs.

Within a few hours, rescuers found the aftermath of an avalanche on Pleschnitzzinken peak and were able to locate the man thanks to his avalanche transceiver.

The skier was completely buried, but was fortunate enough to be trapped in a cavity with enough air to breathe. 

Michael Miggitsch, the regional director of the mountain rescue service said it was a "Christmas miracle."

The rescue service shared photos of the rescue on Facebook.

Against the odds

"A miracle like this happens only once every 20 years," Stefan Schröck, deputy regional director of the Styrian mountain rescue service told local media.

"You cannot move under this snow cover, but the man was very lucky to have an adequate air pocket, so he had oxygen and could breathe," Schröck told public broadcaster ORF.

Rescuers dug the man out from the snow in a severely hypothermic condition. He was warmed up and taken down to the valley on a piste machine where he was admitted to hospital. His condition is no longer life threatening.

Schröck told local media that his survival was extraordinarily unlikely. "The first quarter of an hour is crucial. If one is not rescued in this first quarter of an hour, the chances of survival are very poor,"  he told ORF.

"But if it then goes beyond one hour, the statistical curve remains constant for the buried victim for a relatively long time. With an adequate air pocket, one can survive this time, but then hypothermia becomes a problem. In this respect, the man was very lucky."

Massive Swiss avalanche

An avalanche also hit several skiers at a mountain resort in Switzerland on Thursday morning following heavy snowfall in recent days.

Authorities in the Swiss town of Andermatt said that all six people who were on the ski trail survived the avalanche. Two people were injured, while the four others were either found unharmed by rescuers or managed to free themselves from the snow.

At a press conference, police said the avalanche was 300 meters (984 feet) long and 60 meters (196 feet) wide, Swiss news portal 20min.ch reported. Authorities have also launched an investigation into the incident, as it was unclear whether a skier had triggered the avalanche.

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