Alpinist charged in son's death

Mountain climber and guide Erhard Lorétan.

The alpine climber and mountain guide Erhard Lorétan has been charged with negligent homicide in the death of his seven-month-old child. He has admitted shaking the baby, police said.

This content was published on January 3, 2002 - 15:24

Magistrate Jean-Luc Mooser ordered an autopsy and a formal investigation after Lorétan's infant son died on December 23 in canton Fribourg. Preliminary results of the autopsy showed lesions on the child's brain, authorities said.

Lorétan, 42, told police he had shaken the child for a couple of seconds to stop the infant's prolonged crying.

According to a statement released on Wednesday by the investigating magistrate, Lorétan told police he was unable to control his stress while the infant was crying, and he shook the baby. The father then put the child to bed and shortly afterwards, the crying stopped abruptly. Lorétan then called for an ambulance.

Emergency flight

The baby was flown by helicopter to a children's hospital in Bern, the Kinderspital.

Despite the efforts of the medical teams, the baby died. The hospital notified the police.

Lorétan is renowned for his mountaineering exploits. He has climbed the world's highest summits in the Himalayas: he was one of only nine people to have climbed all 14 of the highest Himalayan peaks. He was also the first to climb the highest peak in Antarctica, and has often been lauded for facing extreme and life-threatening situations in the mountains.

He had been voted sportsman of the century in the French-speaking area of Switzerland.

Words of warning

Swiss pediatrician Thierry Bron told swissinfo that shaking a child for even a short period can be fatal.

"A seven-month-old infant is not able to fully hold its head; it is only able to do so at around one-year old. The fragility of its neck muscles means the child does not need to be greatly shaken for the brain to move; this causes vascular rupture and lesions.

"These lesions leave scars and can result in fatal brain hemorrhaging" the physician explained. "People should be aware that shaking a child is as serious as hitting a child."

Loretan permitted the investigating magistrate to identify him to the media because he said "There has to be prevention information about the risks of babyshaking.

The father added: "If I had realized the danger of my act beforehand, I would have never done it".

Final results of the autopsy will be available in six to eight weeks.


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