How does an avalanche kill you

How do you survive an avalanche?

Beware, avalanche! As every winter, there have been deaths in the Alps. - What you need to know in order to survive an emergency

How do you survive an avalanche? The most important rules of conduct

The same phenomenon every year: winter sports enthusiasts leave the designated slopes to wag through the pristine snow, alone or in pairs. Often, however, they trigger avalanches in which many die terribly. How do you survive an avalanche when there is no more escape?

1st rule

If the slab starts to slide, throw off the ski poles immediately. Otherwise you can seriously injure yourself in the white maelstrom, from broken bones to stab wounds.

2nd rule

Try to stay on your skis or snowboard and steer sideways out of the avalanche path.

3rd rule

Anyone who has lost their position must try swimming movements to stay on the surface of a river avalanche at all costs.

4th rule

As soon as the avalanche slows down, hands over your mouth and nose to form an air cavity. Once you have disappeared in the snow, you can no longer do that - and suffocate in the compacted material.

So much for the security theory. In practice, however, only a few manage to apply the rules of conduct. Often the force of the avalanche is simply too great for controlled safety measures to be carried out.

The main thing: stay up!

The avalanche throws its victims into a rotational movement: During the journey, which is often several hundred meters long, people are torn up and down and turned around their own axis. You lose all orientation. And if the avalanche has come to a halt, the chances of survival depend essentially on where the victim is at that moment: above or below.

Rescuers have 15 minutes after an avalanche

Statistically, most avalanche victims lie at a depth of between one and one and a half meters. That sounds like little, but it means a lot. Because avalanche snow is several times more compressed than conventional powder snow. In order to be able to dig up a buried subject at a depth of only one meter, snow with a weight of half a ton has to be moved! Two strong men need about ten minutes for this. In an emergency, this can be too long. Because after 15 minutes, most of the casualties have already suffocated.

Avalanche snow is as hard as concrete

The longer the avalanche rests, the more the snow collapses and increases its weight. Avalanche researchers compare the density of the material with that of concrete. Even at a depth of 30 centimeters, this means for buried subjects: They have to remain completely motionless, literally cannot even bend a little finger - with dramatic consequences for breathing.

Press snow in the mouth and nose

During the avalanche, very few victims can prevent the snow from literally pressing into their mouth and nose. When the slide is over, the airways are blocked. In addition, the breath freezes the snow, so that the oxygen supply is cut off. And finally, every minute the snow weighs heavier on your chest and lungs. Breathing is getting harder and harder.

Anyone who has an accident alone in an avalanche has no chance

The pressure also prevents blood flow to the extremities. Arms and legs quickly begin to freeze to death. To be freed from such a white grave in just 15 minutes, you have to be very lucky. Anyone who has been traveling alone has little chance of rescue. Because where no eyewitness has observed the accident, no one can provide help. People buried are naturally invisible and cannot call out.

Which equipment is the right one?

For a timely recovery, the helpers also need suitable equipment. The concrete-hard avalanche snow cannot be shoveled with skis or a snowboard. For this you need a special carbon shovel, which, according to the alpine clubs, belongs in the backpack of every snow adventurer - in addition to a direction finder, the so-called avalanche beeper, and a thin, snap-together aluminum tube, the avalanche probe, with which the exact position of one Victim is felt in the snow.

In addition to this three-part basic equipment, which costs around 150 euros, technical innovations ensure better chances of survival:

The avalanche ball unfolds at lightning speed in an emergency, remains like a bright red buoy on the surface during an avalanche and is connected to the victim's belt via a six-meter-long safety line. If the avalanche has come to a standstill, the helpers only need to pull the rope to find the victim. Price: approx. 200 euros.

The avalanche airbag uses a physical phenomenon: in flowing avalanches, the chunks of snow are sorted - the smaller ones move downwards, the larger ones upwards. Those who wear a balloon backpack with two airbags can increase their volume by 150 liters within two seconds. So much size gives buoyancy in the avalanche flow and significantly increases the chance of experiencing the end of an avalanche on its surface. Price: approx. 650 to 750 euros.

The Avalung respiratory system is controversial. It is a hose system with a mouthpiece that is tied around as a chest strap. In an emergency, it should help to breathe the last bit of oxygen in the snow. Mountain rescuers doubt the benefit because the probability is low that an injured person will actually hold the mouthpiece between his teeth after the capers of the avalanche and before "freezing" in the concrete-hard snow.

Avalanche search devices come in many varieties. These are direction finders with a radius of about 40 meters. Anyone who is experienced in dealing with it can locate a victim in two or three minutes. But without practice, with the time pressure on their backs, beginners fail miserably in an emergency. The price: depending on the equipment, several hundred euros.

The Bavarian Mountain Rescue Service will soon receive satellite-based tracking devices. During test searches in the snowy terrain, the rescuers found buried dummy dolls in record time.