Polish researchers killed on Svalbard

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Two Polish researchers out skiing on Svalbard were found dead on Sunday, apparently after getting caught atop an avalanche in the southern region of the Arctic island group. Both worked at Poland’s research station at Hornsund on Svalbard.

“We’re in shock,” the leader of the research station told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). The researchers, a man and a woman, were colleagues at the station that conducts Arctic research for the geophysics institute at the Polish academy of sciences.

Didn’t return as scheduled
Other colleagues grew alarmed when they didn’t return as scheduled on Sunday from a lengthy weekend ski trek. “Their plan was to go over several mountains during the weekend, starting with Kamkrona,” the local sysselmann (governor) on Svalbard, Kjerstin Askholt, told NRK.

Search and rescue crews were sent by helicopter to the area and their bodies were found in an avalanche under Kamkrona, where they’d begun. “So we think the accident occurred already on Friday,” Askholt said. She added that the two probably fell 600-700 meters after deep snow and ice called a skavl broke off and crashed down the steep mountainside. It’s believed both were killed instantly.

The researchers were part of a group of around 14 Polish researchers who live and work closely together at the remote station through the winter. “So you can just imagine how hard this is for them now,” Askholt told NRK. “We have arranged for a Catholic priest and a psychologist from Poland to come and help them.”

Bodies recovered
The bodies of the two researchers were retrieved by helicopter on Sunday and taken to Longyearbyen, the main town on Svalbard where there’s also an airport. The victims’ families in Poland were notified and the research station chief in Warsaw was set to travel to Svalbard Monday and on to the station, located around 130 kilometers south of Longyearbyen.

“We’re in shock,” station leader Wiodzimierz Sielski, who was in Warsaw when the accident occurred, told NRK. “They had the weekend off and went skiing.” He delivered news of the fatal accident in person to the researchers’ families, noting that  “you don’t deliver a message like that over the phone.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund