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Daily Archives: 6. June 2020 − News & Stories


Ava­lan­che acci­dent on Fri­dt­jov­breen in Febru­ary: first report

A first report has been published that sheds some light on the tra­gic ava­lan­che acci­dent that hap­pen­ed on 20 Febru­ary on Fri­dt­jov­breen. The report is writ­ten by a group of peo­p­le from the Arc­tic Safe­ty Cent­re at UNIS, the ava­lan­che group of the local Red Cross and local ava­lan­che obser­vers of the Nor­we­gi­an ava­lan­che war­ning sys­tem, varsom.no; it was published on varsom.no. It is not a report by the Sys­sel­man­nen or other legal or govern­men­tal aut­ho­ri­ty and it does not include a legal assess­ment. The point of the report is to under­stand the acci­dent and to draw con­clu­si­ons to impro­ve safe­ty out in the field.

On 20 Febru­ary, a group of 7, inclu­ding two gui­des from the Rus­si­an Arc­tic Tra­vel Com­pa­ny Gru­mant, left Barents­burg, hea­ding for the gla­cier front of Fri­dt­jov­breen, south of Barents­burg in Van Mijenfjord. The group made a stop at the sou­the­as­tern slo­pe of Mar­cus­senf­jel­let on the hig­her part of Fri­d­tov­breen to visit a melt­wa­ter cave. The cave is very clo­se to the steep slo­pe of Mar­cus­senf­jel­let and a ter­rain depres­si­on bet­ween the cave and the moun­tain was used to park the snow mobi­les. The first three snow mobi­les had alre­a­dy stop­ped when the ava­lan­che went down. Two per­sons were com­ple­te­ly cover­ed by the snow mas­ses and two others part­ly. The three remai­ning per­sons were not caught by the ava­lan­che.

The volu­me of the ava­lan­che is esti­ma­ted to have been near 10,000 cubic met­res, the col­lap­sed snow area on the slo­pe was 13,000 squa­re met­res.

Avalanche accident at Fridtjovbreen, February 2020: map

The appro­xi­ma­te acci­dent site is mark­ed with the red dot.
Map base © Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te.
Modi­fied by landkarten-erstellung.de and this aut­hor.

The two per­sons who were com­ple­te­ly under snow died. Accor­ding to an offi­ci­al press release (Sys­sel­man­nen), the two vic­tims were Sascha Brandt (39) and Mag­da­le­na Kata­ri­na Zakrzew­ski (40), both from Ger­ma­ny.

One of the two vic­tims was cover­ed by half a met­re of snow. This per­son was dug out after 20 minu­tes. The other one was under two met­res of snow. In this case, it took one hour. The gui­des and other group mem­bers used ava­lan­che pro­bes and snow sho­vels to reco­ver the vic­tims.

The group did not have any ava­lan­che transceivers/avalanche bea­cons.

Alar­ming the res­cue forces took time becau­se the satel­li­te pho­ne that the group was equip­ped with was on one of the snow mobi­les that were cover­ed with snow (the­re is no mobi­le pho­ne covera­ge in this area). Final­ly, the second gui­de could use an InReach to send a mes­sa­ge to Barents­burg, from whe­re the Sys­sel­man­nen in Lon­gye­ar­by­en was infor­med. The res­cue heli­c­op­ter could not land on loca­ti­on due to poor wea­ther. It took two hours from the emer­gen­cy call and until the res­cue forces arri­ved. The doc­tor who came as part of the res­cue team could only decla­re the two vic­tims dead.

Avalanche accident Fridtjovbreen, February 2020

Beau­tiful, but also dan­ge­rous: moun­tain slo­pe at Fri­dt­jov­breen

Snow­fall, wind and fluc­tua­ting tem­pe­ra­tures during the weeks befo­re the acci­dent had con­tri­bu­ted to the gene­ral ava­lan­che risk: seve­ral lay­ers of firn with poor bon­ding capa­bi­li­ties were under a lay­er of fresh, wind-blown snow. The Nor­we­gi­an ava­lan­che war­ning ser­vice (varsom.no, link abo­ve) had issued a level 2 war­ning (mode­ra­te risk; the hig­hest level is 4).

One of the con­clu­si­ons of the reports is that the pre­sence of the group, with the impact of the snow mobi­les on the snow, had trig­ge­red the ava­lan­che.

As gene­ral recom­men­da­ti­ons, the report points out that all mem­bers of a snow mobi­le group should have ava­lan­che equip­ment (spe­ci­fi­cal­ly ava­lan­che transceivers/beacons, snow sho­vel, ava­lan­che pro­be) and ever­y­bo­dy should be trai­ned in the use of the equip­ment. Ide­al­ly, this should also be the case for tours in easy, open ter­rain, whe­re ava­lan­che-pro­ne slo­pes can be kept at a safe distance, accor­ding to the report. But it is espe­ci­al­ly important for tours in com­plex ter­rain, clo­ser to ava­lan­che-pro­ne slo­pes. The ter­rain of the tour from Barents­burg to the front of Fri­dt­jov­breen is gene­ral­ly easy and in open ter­rain, but things are dif­fe­rent for the devia­ti­on from the com­mon rou­te to the ice cave clo­se to Mar­cus­senf­jel­let.

As men­tio­ned: the report in ques­ti­on is an eva­lua­ti­on of the inci­dent by ava­lan­che experts with local know­ledge and not a legal assess­ment. This will be made by Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties and it is curr­ent­ly still in pro­cess and not yet published.

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