Update: Avalanche Takes Eight on Mont Blanc du Tacul

Posted on: August 25, 2008


The site of the Mont Blanc du Tacul slide that likely killed eight Swiss and Austrian climbers in the early morning hours of August 24, 2008. Ground and helicopter rescuers were unable to recover the missing climbers by that evening, when the search was suspended. [Photo] Tom Greenall / www.bergredding.nl

Eight Swiss and Austrian climbers are presumed dead and several more are injured after an avalanche swept them on the northwest aspect of Mont Blanc du Tacul, French Alps. The slide struck numerous parties early morning Sunday, August 24, as they were ascending. Air and ground search efforts were set into motion, but none of the eight bodies had been recovered by late Sunday, when the search was temporarily halted.

At 3 a.m. on August 24, forty-seven climbers were ascending the northwest face of Mont Blanc du Tacul when a 50-meter-wide avalanche caught fifteen people in its path, injuring seven and presumably killing eight—four Germans, three Swiss and one Austrian—whose location beneath the snow has now been identified by rescuers.

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The slide occurred when a serac broke free and slid down the mountain, triggering with it a slab avalanche. Several of the injured survivors noted that the slide was surprisingly quiet as it approached; The Seattle Times quoted Nicolas Duquesne, a French survivor, as saying "It didn't make any noise. It really was impressive." The slide caught the climbers at their altitude of 3600 meters and carried the eight missing victims 1000 meters down the face.

French and Italian rescue teams, more than a dozen personnel in all, conducted an initial recovery effort until 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon. The bodies of the eight missing victims have since been located using radar echo methods; however, they lie approximately 40 meters under the snow's surface, trapped below an enormous block of ice. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, the victims' location on the mountain is directly below the path of more seracs that pose risk of breaking. French officials have stated that there is no hope of recovering any of the eight missing climbers alive. Their recovery may have to wait for later in the season, when snow melts and the bodies surface on their own.

By all reports, the weather on the morning of August 4 presented no obvious risk of avalanche. The falling serac was most likely a result of pressure created by continually forming ice. The circumstances that caused the avalanche could not have been foreseen by any of the climbers, though slides of this nature are not uncommon to the region.

Sources: Menno Boermans, www.bergredding.nl, www.climbing.com, Sydney Morning Herald, The Seattle Times, Le Monde

The slide path on the northwest face of Mont Blanc du Tacul. A serac collapse triggered the avalanche at approximately 3 a.m. [Photo] Tom Greenall / www.bergredding.nl

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Comments
jed

We descended from the Italian side earlier this summer and found two people taking a siesta on this slope and several others hanging out in the debris field at the bottom. This included a guide and client who walked up to the top of the debris only to walk back down (getting sorted for the next day). The slope avalanched later that afternoon. This is considered one of the safer routes on Mont Blanc but it still involves a significant amount of time under seracs. Strangely, few people seem to obey the ``run while underneath seracs'' ethic, preferring instead to walk slowly while short-roped together.

2008-08-29 09:12:28
Eamon

We took the Grand Couloir — Goutier normal route up. The day before this happened. I discovered that only big accidents make the news. One person died on our route on the way down (in the Couloir) and two people on the Bosses Ridge the day before we went up. Even technically easy routes are not without risk.

www.relearn.ie/2008/08/28/climbing-mont-blanc-an-account

2008-08-29 06:47:19
oliver

Me and my climbing partner also got caught out here in the summer of 1998. Like Stephen we narrowly escaped by running to the side. The snout of the 'lanche was maybe 300m wide and as high as a Transit hi-top van.

Deepest condolonces to everyone affected by this.

Oliver Metherell

www.super7.co.uk

2008-08-27 04:27:38
Stephen

In August 2005, there was an even larger avalanche in the exact same spot, also caused by a serac collapse in the afternoon. My partner and I narrowly escaped by running to the side, but at least one climber behind us was killed, and there was a major rescue for climbers caught in crevasses and climbers stranded above the slide path.

I know Mont Blanc du Tacul is very popular, especially for guides taking inexperienced clients, but perhaps it's a bit more dangerous than the conventional wisdom says. Just because it is easy doesn't mean it is safe.

2008-08-26 12:40:47
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