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Home* News and Stories → Avalan­che acci­dent on Fri­dt­jov­breen in Febru­a­ry: first report

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.

By the way, my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (3): Die Bären­in­sel und Jan May­en”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!



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last modification: 2020-06-06 · copyright: Rolf Stange