2 Believed to Be Foreign Skiers Found at Avalanche Site in Cardiopulmonary Arrest

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rescue workers head for the avalanche site in Otari, Nagano Prefecture, on Monday morning.

NAGANO — Two men were found in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest Monday morning after being caught in an avalanche in the Northern Japanese Alps on Sunday.

The police are trying to identify whether the two are among the five foreign skiers caught in the avalanche when they were backcountry skiing, which is on slopes not developed for skiing or snowboarding, in the village of Otari, Nagano Prefecture, on Sunday.

The two men, one of whom was American, were found unconscious at the avalanche site, which occurred on the Tengu plateau on the eastern side of Mt. Hakuba Norikura.

The Nagano prefectural police started searching for the two early Monday morning. A team of 12, most of them from the mountain rescue unit of the prefectural police, left the Tsugaike Kogen ski resort for the avalanche site. They found one man at 10:36 a.m. and the other at 10:46 a.m. around the avalanche site. Due to what they heard from other skiers who witnessed the avalanche on Sunday, the police had determined the approximate locations of the two beforehand.

The police received an emergency call at about 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, saying that some skiers had been caught in an avalanche. The police started searching for the two Monday morning as bad weather prevented them starting on Sunday.

According to police, 13 foreigners in three groups were believed to have been doing backcountry skiing in the area, outside of the ski resort slope. They included Americans and Canadians.

One of the eight who were not caught in the avalanche spoke about the incident to police via an employee at their accommodation.

Eleven of the 13 skiers climbed down to reach the Tsugaike Kogen ski resort Sunday night. Of the 11, a male was sent to hospital via ambulance due to a dislocated right shoulder.

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, a heavy snow warning was issued on Friday night at its observation point in Otari, and 40 centimeters of snowfall was observed at that point.

As intermittent snowfalls were expected from then on, the agency issued an avalanche advisory on Friday evening. It was cautious of the increasing risk of a surface avalanche, which occurs when fresh snow falls on top of old accumulated snow. The advisory was still in place at the time of the accident.