Two children are dead following a massive avalanche in the French Alps, and now, attention is turning to the teacher who allegedly led the group of students into danger.
The teacher apparently took a group of teens from the Saint-Exupery high school in Lyon on a closed ski run in the Alps shortly before a deadly avalanche swallowed the entire group, BBC News reported.
Among the dead are a boy, 14, and a girl, 16. A Ukrainian tourist, 57, who was skiing separate from the group, was also killed. Four students were found in cardiac arrest, Fox News added, but all surviving members of the school group are now safe and sound.
The teacher, who is now at the center of an investigation, was found unconscious after suffering multiple broken bones and remains in the hospital, seriously ill.
As media are reporting conflicting and unclear information, it’s not exactly clear how many people were caught up in the Alps avalanche. It’s possible up to 20 people were buried in snow, 10 of them students, but some reports indicate all of the victims were from the school.
The closed ski run on which the students had been skiing is located on the icy north-facing side of the mountain. The Alps avalanche began at an altitude of 9,100 feet, and the group was skiing 1,300 feet below that, the Local reported. The avalanche was reportedly 65 feet wide and nearly 1,000 feet long.
Right after the avalanche struck the group, a massive rescue operation, involving 60 people (among them 30 mountain rescue workers), two police helicopters, an emergency rescue helicopter, and rescue dogs, was launched, Sky News reported.
The rescue operation was made difficult by a thick layer of snow that fell after the avalanche. The search continued into Wednesday night, but the French interior ministry confirmed that everyone reported missing had been found.
The avalanche occurred on a closed ski track at an Alps report called Le Deux-Alpes; the group had reportedly come to the Alps on a weeks’ holiday.
The resort has been closed since the beginning of the season due to lack of snow, but in recent days, a massive amount of snow fell on the French Alps.
That fresh powder had yet to settle, increasing the risk of an avalanche. Strong winds made skiing even more dangerous, as it created unstable formations of snow high in the Alps mountains.
“You could feel that the snow had just fallen and it hadn’t had the time to pack down. It wasn’t solid,” a skier told a local news station.
Investigators believe that noise could’ve triggered the Alps avalanche, or it was a spontaneous consequence of heavy snow and winds. Expert Dominique Letang, from the country’s Association for the Study of Snow and Avalanches, theorized that the skiers themselves triggered the incident.
With that information at hand, investigators are now turning their attention to the teacher who is believed to have led his students onto a ski track that was clearly marked as closed and dangerous.
“How could anyone think to take children, after a period of heavy snow, on a track that was closed?” asked France‘s minister for youth and sports, Patrick Kanner, according to the Independent. “The reason why the teacher, who is himself wounded, took them on to the closed run… is something the judicial inquiry will establish.”
Local prosecutor Jean-Paul Bonnetain doubts anyone would’ve failed to notice that the ski run was closed; signs warned of the danger and the top of the run was blocked with netting. Bonnetain believes the teacher took the “initiative” to lead the school group in the closed track, which “was really of a technical level” and not for teenagers.
Four people have been killed this year in the Alps. Two Lithuanians, a Spaniard, and a Czech have all died in avalanches in the mountains since the new year.
[Photo by Daniel Stanford/AP]