200 emergency services in Austria: avalanche spills skiers - two missing

An avalanche buried several people in an Austrian ski area.

200 emergency services in Austria: avalanche spills skiers - two missing

An avalanche buried several people in an Austrian ski area. Dozens of emergency services go on the search with helicopters and specially trained dogs. Several people - some injured - can be rescued until the evening.

Several people were buried in an avalanche in the Austrian ski resort of Lech Zürs. Based on a video by a witness, it was initially assumed that ten people were buried, but eight of the ten people have now been identified, said State Security Councilor Christian Gantner after a briefing in the evening. In fact, only one person was injured. Another injured himself but was able to free himself, both were flown to hospitals. Six more escaped safely from the descending avalanche.

There are still "a maximum of two buried people," said Hermann Fercher, tourism director of the municipality of Lech and head of the operation, according to RTL. Gantner emphasized: "It is very positive that no missing person reports have been received so far." All accommodation establishments on the Arlberg and in the Klostertal have been informed to report if people are missing. The search with helicopters and avalanche search dogs continues until it can be ruled out that people are still buried under the avalanche.

According to the Voralberg municipality, almost 200 people were in action in the evening, who took part in the search on the avalanche cone. At night, the army's avalanche operation train will move into the nearby Walgau barracks, the ORF reported. At daybreak he could support the search. "The coming hours will decide whether we need him," said Gantner.

"We do everything we can to save the winter sports enthusiasts," said the Lech municipality. In order to be able to continue the search for the buried people in the dark, searchlights were requested. Fercher had told the ORF: "The emergency services are instructed and prepared to continue looking all night." He emphasized: "The search will continue, if necessary, all night."

Fercher thanked the emergency services: "The rescue chain worked perfectly." Members of the piste and mountain rescue services as well as mountain railway staff are involved in the search. A country road had also been closed because rescue helicopters were stationed there.

According to the Austrian news agency APA, the avalanche went off around 3 p.m. in the area of ​​the 2720 meter high Trittkopf. According to a police spokesman, the masses of snow had also reached the slopes of the ski area and buried winter sports enthusiasts there.

Another avalanche in the morning had ended lightly. In Sölden, about 100 kilometers from Zürs, there was a fear that the masses of snow would have buried a person. The avalanche went off around 12.30 p.m. on Tiefenbachferner near the mountain station. After around two and a half hours of searching with 40 helpers and several dogs, the all-clear was given that the fear had turned out to be wrong.

A lot of snow had fallen in the high alpine terrain in the past few days. Spring-like conditions then prevailed on this Sunday. At the same time, according to the avalanche warning service, the avalanche danger was considerable.

It is extremely rare for avalanches to reach slopes that are considered safe, but it cannot be ruled out. Three years ago, a woman and two seven-year-old girls died in South Tyrol when a huge slab of snow broke loose at an altitude of 3,000 meters in Schnalstal and thundered down onto the slope. In Andermatt, Switzerland, there was also an incident in December 2019 in which masses of snow buried six skiers on the piste. But the misfortune ended lightly.

Surviving in an avalanche is actually only possible for a short period of time. Victims suffocate under the packed snow or succumb to their injuries. In individual cases, however, victims are lucky and there is a cavity in front of their face that allows them to breathe. Under these circumstances, winter sports enthusiasts were rescued alive even after several hours.

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