Avalanche victim cheats death

The Jungfrau's spectacular slopes can be deadly.

A German skier dramatically escaped death after being buried under snow in the Bernese Oberland for almost four hours.

This content was published on January 3, 2003 - 17:24

The man, who was skiing to the Jungfraujoch - the highest alpine station in Europe - was discovered by a Swiss rescue hound.

The 23-year-old had started out from the Mönchjochhütte with a friend on New Year's eve when they triggered an avalanche.

"He disappeared [in the snow] and was dragged down the slope for about 100 metres," Walter Stunzi from the Swiss Air Rescue service told swissinfo.

"The other person managed to call Swiss mountain rescuers for help on his mobile phone," he continued.

A team of 15 rescuers was dispatched to the find the skier, who was trapped one metre below the surface.

Lucky escape

"Normally after one hour elapses, the chance of finding survivors decreases significantly," Stunzi said.

This young man was lucky though, he managed to keep breathing thanks to a small hole.

It was one of the dogs that accompany all mountain rescue expeditions that found the trapped skier. When he was brought to the surface, he was found to be suffering from hypothermia - his body temperature had dropped to around 30 degrees Celsius (seven degrees below normal).

"It was really the last moment to find him because he was completely hypothermic," Stunzi said.

Daring rescue

The skier was winched about 100 metres up the slope to the top of the Jungfraujoch - which is at an altitude of 3,750 metres - where he was put on a train and sent to a hospital in Interlaken.

Bad weather and poor visibility prevented helicopters from transporting the victim to hospital - but doctor Paul Günther who treated him told swissinfo that it was a daring rescue in dangerous conditions.

Günther praised rescuers at the scene of the accident for the first aid they administered to the skier "so that when the patient arrived at the hospital, he was in quite a good condition".

After 24 hours, the patient was taken out of intensive care and is said to be in a stable condition.

Protective clothing

The doctors and rescuers are agreed that it is a miracle that the man managed to survive the freezing conditions for so long. The special gear that skiers wear today probably helped save his life, Günther said.

"I think the modern clothing that we wear provides very good insulation so that was a big advantage for him. The rest was done by his body, which has mechanisms to keep the body warm."

The victim did not suffer any injuries.

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin

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