Two German tourists killed in an avalanche on Svalbard Thursday were not equipped with electronic devices that could help them be located under the mounds of snow and ice. Both were found and dug out after an hour of searching, but emergency crews later had to declare both dead at the scene.
The two avalanche victims were part of a tour group that set off from the Russian settlement of Barentsburg. Local officials reported there were five tourists in the group and two guides from the Russian tour operator Arctic Travel Company Grumant.
Tour leader Sergei Tjernikov told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday that the group was snowmobiling around 2:30pm when the avalanche crashed down a steep mountainside along the route he said they use weekly to take tourists to the glacier Fridtjovbreen. Others in the group used search poles and spades to search for the missing Germans, who were finally found around an hour later, before emergency crews arrived by helicopter.
NRK reported that locally bad weather and the helicopter’s inability to land created delays in getting a doctor to the scene until around 5pm, when the victims’ deaths were confirmed. Their bodies were taken to Longyearbyen while the other three tourists, from England and South Africa, were taken back to Barentsburg.
Candles were lit at the Svalbard Church in Longyearbyen to honour the victims in a town that has experienced fatal avalanches as well. The church was open to all, with local pastor Siv Limstrand offering support and condolences.
Svalbard’s top official, Sysselmann Kjerstin Askholt, noted how glacier areas create their own weather systems in the Arctic archipelago. She said that even though the weather was “good” in Longyearbyen, it was “extremely poor” at the glacier. Both tour guides have been called in for questioning on Saturday, while the three tourists would be questioned after the weekend as authorities carried out a routine investigation of the fatal accident.