Pasquier, Mathieu, Olivier Hugli, Alexandre Kottmann, and Frank Techel. Avalanche accidents causing fatalities: are they any different in the summer? High Alt Med Biol. 16:000-000, 2016.
AIMS: This retrospective study investigated the epidemiology of summer avalanche accidents that occurred in Switzerland and caused at least one fatality between 1984 and 2014. Summer avalanche accidents were defined as those that occurred between June 1st and October 31st.
RESULTS: Summer avalanches caused 21 (4%) of the 482 avalanches with at least one fatality occurring during the study period, and 40 (6%) of the 655 fatalities. The number of completely buried victims per avalanche and the proportion of complete burials among trapped people were lower in summer than in winter. Nevertheless, the mean number of fatalities per avalanche was higher in summer than in winter: 1.9 ± 1.2 (standard deviation; range 1-6) versus 1.3 ± 0.9 (range 1-7; p < 0.001). Trauma was the presumed cause of death in 94% (33 of 35) in summer avalanche accidents. Sixty-five percent of fully buried were found due to visual clues at the snow surface.
CONCLUSIONS: Fatal summer avalanche accidents caused a higher mean number of fatalities per avalanche than winter avalanches, and those deaths resulted mostly from trauma. Rescue teams should anticipate managing polytrauma for victims in summer avalanche accidents rather than hypothermia or asphyxia; they should be trained in prehospital trauma life support and equipped accordingly to ensure efficient patient care.