Avalanche kills five skiers in Troms

A large avalanche thundered down a mountainside in northern Norway on Monday afternoon, burying six persons from Switzerland and France who were skiing at Djupvik in Kåfjord. One Swiss tourist was dug out alive and rushed to hospital in Tromsø, but five others in the group were killed.

Four of the skiers buried by the mounds of snow were found shortly thereafter and also taken to the University Hospital of Northern Norway (Universitetssykehuset Nord-Norge, UNN) in Tromsø but their lives couldn’t be saved. A sixth person was located and found later, further down the mountainside, but was pronounced dead at the scene.

Popular but risky area
The avalanche was considered one of the worst in more than 20 years, occurring on the mountain in Nord-Troms County known as Sorbmegaisa, which rises to an elevation of 1,288 meters above sea level. It’s a popular but risky area for skiers, with the Sami meaning of the name roughly translated as “the mountain where man can easily have an accident,” according to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

Skies were mostly sunny on Monday, but variable and rising temperatures and spring conditions have led to dangerous conditions and raised avalanche warnings all over Norway in recent weeks.

A massive search and rescue operation was mounted quickly, with as many as 40 persons searching for victims of the avalanche that was estimated to be a kilometer wide and “quite long,” Gaute Austeggen of the local police district told NRK. “The avalanche danger was very high in the area.”

Swiss survivor
The first five of those missing in a group of 12 skiers was found around 4pm. The last victim was found around 6pm, buried under six meters of snow and ice. All of the skiers in the group reportedly were equipped with devices that would make them easier to find in the case of avalanche.

Those killed included one person from France and four from Switzerland. The injured person taken to hospital in Tromsø was also from Switzerland and reported to be in serious but stable condition Monday evening.

In addition to the police and emergency workers from the Red Cross, Norwegian People’s Aid and the Norwegian air ambulance service, the Norwegian military sent a rescue helicopter and two transport helicopters to the area, along with five dog teams and two emergency workers. Two F-16 fighter jets helped localize the avalanche site.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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