One of the people rescued from an avalanche at the Swiss ski resort of Crans-Montana died in the hospital overnight. Three other people were injured by the huge avalanche that hit a ski slope on Tuesday. Rescuers suspended a coordinated search on Wednesday morning.
The man who died was a 34-year-old French ski patroller who had worked since 2010 at the Swiss resort, police said. When the avalanche hit the piste, he had been helping an injured skier.
On Tuesday, a huge avalanche swept down the mountain at an altitude of 2,500 metres, just below the Plaine-Morte Glacier, and hit the popular Kandahar ski slope at 2.20pm at a spot known as “Passage du Major”.
In all, four people were quickly pulled from the snow and flown by helicopter to Sion Hospital. Three had light injuries; the French ski patroller later died overnight from his serious injuries.
Rescuers continued working on Tuesday night above the resort in canton Valais to try to find skiers who might have been trapped in the avalanche. Witnesses had told police that there could be more people under the snow.
This video by Swiss public radio, RTS, shows the extent of the avalanche. The police said it measured over 840 metres long and 100 metres wide and spread over the slope for about 400 metres.
Rescue services were immediately on the spot and the search continues. Eight helicopters and more than 240 police and rescue workers are involved in the emergency operation, including army officers who were there to help prepare for two Women's Alpine Ski World Cup races next weekend.
A report by the Valais-based Le Nouvelliste newspaper quoted the commune's president Nicolas Feraud as saying 10 to 12 people were believed to be trapped in the snow.
“We heard a loud noise. After, there was a huge avalanche. I have never seen a 1.5-metre-4 metre high avalanche in my life. It was just impressive. We were almost left behind too. It was a close call,” Martial, a 40-year-old skier, told 20Minutes news site.
According to the local avalanche bulletin, the avalanche danger was level 2 (moderate) on a scale of 1-5 on Tuesday. The accident came as warm temperatures over the past week began melting heavy snow and coincided with school holidays in some cantons.
The cause of the avalanche is unclear and an investigation has been opened. The police said it had either been set off by skiers or by the weather conditions. Avalanches that hit resort ski slopes are rare. According to the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) in Davosexternal link, since 1996 there have been five similar accidents where an avalanche hit a resort slope, resulting in a total of five deaths.
Crans-Montana President Nicolas Féraud told Le Nouvelliste: "We are in shock and we hope for a positive outcome for these people.”
The Valais police has opened an emergency hotline for families urgently seeking information 00 41 848 112 117.