On Feb 22, the Ministery of Emergency Situations of the Republic of Armenia reported an avalanche accident in Kotayk Province on the slopes of Mt. Teghenis 2851m.

 

   The call for a rescue was received by MES on 11:05am from a group of five French tourists ski touring on Mt. Teghenis in Aghveran resort valley. Francois Xavier was the only victim of incident who was dug out by his team members, yet still remaining unconscious.  The MES website says the military helicopter was at the place around 1:30pm however. Later the doctors reported the death of the victim on 3:40pm in the helicopter. 4:25pm the body of the victim was transported to Yerevan by helicopter.  

    It's very sad to state Francois Xavier was the first skier victim killed by an avalanche ever in Armenia. We sympathize the family and friends of Francois Xavier.  

   On February 23, the team from Up The Rocks, Karen Marutyan, Petr Majer and Mkhitar Mkhitaryan went on the place to investigate the details of the accident. 

   We wanted to talk to French group members, but in the "Arturs Aghveran Resort" we were told that they have already set off to Yerevan for departing home. We also learned there, that the group was from 7 people, 5 of them went on the mountain that day. The group was assisted with a local guide(trip manager?), but the hotel staff did't clearly know was the guide with the group on the mountain that day or not. The trip was managed by Voyage Armenia agency.  

   We also learned that along with the M-8 military helicopter, which couldn't land around, a small chopper from "Armenian Helicopters" was saving the situation getting the job done (it arrived about the same time as the M-8). Rescuers of MES had to walk to the place by foot as they were not equipped and prepared for ski-touring or even walking with snowshoes on the snow. The distance in between the end of the road and the accident location is about 3km, and they arrived to the place earlier than the helicopters and tried to help with first aid organize a transportation, but the group insisted on waiting for helicopters and medical team support. It's most likely because the victim had severe injuries which might be incompatible with transporting on a ski sled. 

   We presume that some of the information above learned from a third party may not as accurate, and may be updated later if we get more precise info.

   We headed to the place of the incident and started to study avalanche.

   Below is the avalanche report in addition to the video material above:

  • Avalanche type - Deep persistent slab / Wind slab.
  • Aspect - East.
  • Elevation - 2500m.
  • Trigger caused by - Deep persistent slab collapse.
  • Size - 3 (about 300m wide, 300m long. slab blocks thickness from 50cm to 1m).
  • Week layer crystals - cup shaped depth hoar up to 5mm large.
  • Starting Point 1* -  crown 75-80cm thick (wind slab), slope angle 31 degree, very tick compact snow with relatively "loose" layers about 30cm deep, 60cm deep (one finger could hardly go in). Dept hoar and faceted crystal layers - 8-10 cm above the ground.  CT-24 week layer brake, CT-28 column collapse.
  • Starting point 2*  - crown 80cm (wind slab), slope angle 37 degree. Very dens cohesive snow (plastic card did not go in) almost all with the same consistence laying over an ice crust surface. 1-2cm above the crusty layer there was a round shaped 0.3mm grains which provided very poor bonding. One finger penetration in this layer. 
  • Bedding surface - consisted of very compact ice slope, typical to the other NW - NE slopes around in the area above the tree line. 
  • Runout zone - broad slope 20 degrees. Deposit depth 1-1.2m. 
  • Danger rating for Teghenis ENE slopes - TL-low, ALP-considerable.

   Last time we were on Teghenis on Feb 17 with Karen Marutyan, we surprisingly met strong NW wind flows over 40m/s, transporting huge amount of snow on Teghenis NE and SE slopes. Why "surprisingly" because Meteoblue was showing up to 30km/h for that day for the summit. Then we stayed at treeline to be sheltered and catch some soft. On Feb 23 we noticed the wind affects to be increased drastically. Snow drifts, sastrugis on windward aspects, big pillows on lee slopes and cross loading on NE, E ribs could easily be observed all around on the mountain.

   Why did the French group appeared to be traversing below 37 degree steep slope, resulting a propagation of deep persistent slab and triggering a remote avalanche I do not understand, cause there were other mindful options to choose for the ascend route. Francois was most likely the first and only one entering in a trigger zone, as his burial place was about 15-20m from the left side of the avalanche path. 

   I hope later we will hear the complete review from the group members about this tragic incident. RIP Francois Xavier..

 

 

 

 

 

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