Italian Alps: Six Killed By Avalanche

A massive avalanche hit the Italians Alps, in South Tyrol, near the Austrian border early Saturday morning. It swept away a large mountain group of people, around 23 in all. According to CNN, there were at least six fatalities. The snow slide began its descent around 11:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m. Eastern Time) down the Monte Nevoso. A mountain group, around a dozen people, were at more than 9,840-feet altitude on their way to the summit of Vedrette di Ries, planning to ski down.

“If an avalanche (occurs) up there,” said Hans Berger, a local politician familiar with the area, “whoever is beneath it doesn’t have an escape, and can be covered by several meters of snow.”

Although they were all overtaken by the snow, two individuals were able to dig themselves out and begin the rescue mission for other victims. Six from the group did not survive. Five of the victims are Italians and have been identified as Matthias Gruber, 16; Margit Gasser, 32; Christian Kopfsguter, 21; Alexander Patrick Rieder, 42 and Bernhard Stoll, 43. The sixth is a 49-year-old Austrian named as Horst Wallner.

According to a fire department spokeswoman, its fatalities make it one of the deadliest to hit the area in many years. The avalanche risk was a three on a scale of one to five with five being the most dangerous. With its intensity accompanied with a steep terrain and dangerous conditions, the mountain group faced an extreme challenge.

The Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA), Italy’s leading news agency, reported that helicopters were summoned to the area, carrying rescue workers and dogs. They made several trips to ensure the safety of the rescuers and a light landing under the circumstance.

Rescuers spend much of the day on the Italian Alps looking for bodies.

“We know there were several groups in the same area, which is why we are still searching,” the spokeswoman said on Saturday evening. “We don’t know yet if everyone has been accounted for.”

The exact cause for this avalanche is still unknown and marks number three for this year alone. The Italian Alps avalanche comes just over a month after five people, who were groups of Czech skiers, died in an avalanche not far away in western Austria. Helmut Schultz, the spokesman for police in Tirol State, told CNN that four people suffered injuries in that avalanche, that also happened midday.

This one occurred about 15 miles southwest of Innsbruck. They were among 17 skiers in the area when that avalanche struck. No children were involved in that avalanche.

The initial avalanche hit the Austrian area in January. A physical education instructor accompanied around 10 minor students from St.-Exupery school in Lyons on a trip to France’s Les Deux Alpes. The ski area had been closed off due to lack of snow, at first, then it’s propensity to avalanche. Despite the restriction, the teacher accompanied his students into the skiing area, Grenoble prosecutor Jean-Yves Coquillat reported.

Many signs and safety nets were present, all to which the teacher ignored. An avalanche occurred and three people were killed, including a 16 year old female student who died at the scene and a 14 year old male student who died after being transported to the hospital. A third person outside the group- a Ukrainian skier, who appeared to be alone — also died.

The teacher who was hospitalized for non-life threatening injuries was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter.

[Image by ANSA/AP Images]