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Body of German man missing for 32 years found on glacier

August 31, 2022

A retreating glacier helped solve the cold case of a 27-year-old who went missing in the Alps while hiking alone in 1990.

Gorner glacier with the Matterhorn Mountain peak in the background
Hikers in the area where the man went missing had reported glaciers 'as soft as butter' back in 1990Image: Fischer/Bildagentur-online/picture alliance

The remains of a German man who went missing while hiking in 1990 were discovered near the mountain resort community of Zermatt, Switzerland. The area is home to the imposing Matterhorn peak, deep in the Alps.

Mountaineers discovered the body, along with hiking equipment on the Stockji glacier at the end of July.

Authorities then carried out DNA testing and confirmed this week that the remains were those of a 27-year-old from the town of Nürtingen, Baden-Württemberg.

Swiss police said that the shrinking of the glacier helped unearth the body of the man.

Hikers found 'mummified' body

In an interview with The Switzerland Times, mountaineer Luc Lechanoine said he and a fellow climber, who were on a tour of the Stockji glacier, first spotted several colored things on a stone and became worried.

"It was clear to us that these things do not have a natural origin. So we decided to take a closer look at these items. So we went down, also to find out if there was still someone there and if we could help them," Lechanoine said.

They then found the equipment and the man's body near to it.

"The clothes were neon colored and in the style of the 80s," the hiker said, adding that the body was mummified and slightly damaged "but still complete."

The group descended to Zermatt where they provided police with a photo and the exact location, which helped authorities quickly retrieve the body.

An 'experienced' mountaineer

The 27-year-old man was identified as Thomas Flamm who went missing in August 1990, while he was hiking alone, on a multi-day mountain tour in the Valais Alps.

He had set off from the mountain town of Chamonix, France, at the base of Western Europe's highest peak, Mont Blanc.

Flamm's hike was supposed to conclude in Domodossola, Italy, where he was meant to meet a friend, but he never arrived at the destination.

Local newspaper Der Nürtinger Zeitung reported that the young man wrote two letters while hiking and shortly before his disappearance.

On July 29, 1990, Flamm wrote a letter to his grandmother to happily recount that he had climbed and hiked around Mont Blanc. His final communication was with his mother on August 1 and three days later she reported him missing.

It remains unclear what exactly happened, but the newspaper reported at the time of his disappearance that Flamm had excellent equipment and was a conscientious, experienced mountaineer.

Authorities rule death 'an accident'

Authorities launched an exhaustive search for Flamm, in the hopes of finding him alive. Swiss and Italian authorities cooperated in the rescue effort, Nürtinger Zeitung reported.

All campsites were searched and a helicopter with experienced mountain guides also combed the area. But hopes diminished over time, as a group of hikers of the German Alpine Club who had been in the location, roughly at the same time as Flamm went missing, saying that the glaciers in the area were "as soft as butter," the local newspaper reported.

By the end of the year, authorities gave up the search.

"It was clearly an accident," police spokeswoman Andrea Kopp said about the case, 32 years later, once DNA evidence confirmed Flamm's identity. "Our investigation is closed."

jcg/sri (AFP, dpa)