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5 Skiers Found Dead in Swiss Alps, 1 Still Missing

courtesy+of+ABC+%28Air+Zermatt+helicopters+getting+ready+for+takeoff%29
courtesy of ABC (Air Zermatt helicopters getting ready for takeoff)

On March 9th, 2024, 6 cross-country skiers set out on a route at the foot of the infamous Matterhorn to reach the village of Arolla in Switzerland. Unfortunately, No one would return home. Weather conditions quickly deteriorated and after the group didn’t arrive at Arolla, a village in the territory of Evolène at an altitude of 2,000 m, a family member quickly contacted authorities, and a search party was sent out. 5 of the skiers were found deceased while the 6th Skier was not found and remains missing to this day.

 

The skiers set out on their route on March 9th in relatively good weather conditions. Those weather conditions would quickly deteriorate, however, A storm would pass over the group and they were forced to take shelter where 5 members of the group would ultimately die. The whereabouts and fate of the 6th person remain unknown. During their journey, a brutal storm caused cloud coverage and winds to create a massive snowstorm that forced the group to hunker down.  These aren’t the most ideal conditions for skiing. The best conditions would be clear skies, little to no wind, fresh powder and snow, and temperatures between -6 and -1 degrees. This is because it’s not so cold that the snow is rock solid, but it’s also cold enough that the snow won’t melt. None of these conditions were met at the time of the skier’s deaths. These extremely poor conditions forced the skiers to dig a hole in the side of the mountain where they would ultimately die.

 

What was the cause of these 5 skiers’ deaths? Freezing temperatures are one of the main factors. The temperatures the night the skiers were trapped were below freezing, in the negatives. However, the most likely cause of death is suffocation. The excessive winds piled snow on top of the skiers and the layers of snow would compress the skier’s bodies, not allowing them to breathe and ultimately leading to suffocation. When rescue teams finally reached the location of the skiers, they found nothing but fresh snow and little mounds. The teams had to use avalanche transceivers, which detect other receivers and are used to find people buried under the snow and problems which also detect people buried under the snow. The skiers were covered by snow, in sub-freezing conditions leading to their death.

The skiers were all found in or near mounds made of snow. According to Anjan Truffer, head of mountain rescue at Air Zermatt, he believes that they were snow mounds that the skiers dug to protect themselves from the storm. A snow mound, or snow cave, is like an igloo. It is dug into the snow and they are fairly effective against wind and low temperatures. This is exactly why the skiers dug them. However, the skiers needed to have the proper equipment and tools to dig the snow caves effectively and quickly. All the equipment the skiers had were flashlights and small hand-held shovels. This meant the skiers could not dig out snow fast enough before fresh snow fell.

courtesy of Sky News (The location of where the skiers bodies were found)

Now, all 5 victims and the 6th missing person have all been identified. The bodies of the 5 found include brothers Jean-Vincent Moix,age 30, David Moix, age 27, and Laurent Moix, age 21, and their cousin Marc Moix, age 44, and their uncle Joel Moix, age 58. The 6th missing person was identified as David’s girlfriend, 28-year-old Emile Deschenax. Her backpack and skis were found near all 5 bodies, but her whereabouts remain unknown.

After a family member of one of the members of the skiing party contacted authorities, a search party was sent out, however, it was quickly postponed as the terrible weather limited visibility making it difficult for search and rescue helicopters and teams to locate the skiers. One of the skiers of the party was able to speak with authorities where he helped authorities locate his position at 11,500 feet near Tête Blanche ridge. Hours later, another party was sent out, however, that was also forced to be canceled. Finally, a 3rd party was sent out and a helicopter took a police officer, a doctor, and 2 rescuers. The team used mobile phone networks to pinpoint the location of the skier who talked with police which eventually led them to the location of the 5 bodies. Christian Varone, the commander of Valais regional police said in an interview with CBS News regarding the missing 6th person “As long as there is hope we will keep going… while remaining realistic in view of the conditions this person has been in for the past 48 hours.”

 

As unfortunate as this situation is, it has happened all too much across the world and Switzerland. In 2018, 7 other people died while climbing the Matterhorn. On March 6th, a 37-year-old man was killed by an avalanche while skiing Gunshight Mountain in Oregon. Skiing, or just hiking on mountains can be dangerous, and that’s why you need to be prepared. For one, you need the ideal weather conditions stated above. You also want the proper supplies like an avalanche transceiver so that you can be found by rescue teams. You also want to be experienced with skiing, snowboarding, or hiking. When asking my uncle about how he had 13 surgeries all on his knee, he told me “It’s from a skiing accident, I didn’t exactly know what I was doing, and, yeah.” He was very fortunate that nothing worse happened, and he went skiing with the right weather and equipment to call for help.

 

It is a tragedy what has happened to these 6 people, and all we can do is hope for the best for the 6th person and learn from this unfortunate event.

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