Man Survives Avalanche by 'Swimming'

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What should you do if you’re caught by an avalanche without an air bag?

Swim. Thrashing around in a swimming motion probably saved the life of a British man who was descending Mount Blanc.

“He was hit by the full force of the avalanche but instead of being buried he managed to swim it for 700 meters before coming to a stop,” said police chief Delfino Viglione, of the Italian town of Aosta, told SkyNews. “The swimming action helped him stay near the surface of the snow and he was able to walk out of the avalanche.”

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A helicopter then airlifted him and his two climbing companions to a nearby hospital. Rescue teams said he suffered only cuts and bruises.

“We were a group of three and one of us got hit but myself and Misha didn’t and are OK,” one of the climbers, Ben Tibbets, told SkyNews. “The other guy is very, very fortunate. He didn’t have an airbag on him as we were travelling light. He was carried quite a way down but he survived. He rode the avalanche, floated near the top and managed to walk away at the end of it. He’s got a few bruises and is a bit shocked but otherwise OK.”

Experts recommend checking the local forecasts before heading out and carrying an avalanche survival kit, including a flotation airbag, beacon, and probe.

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But if you find yourself in an avalanche without safety gear, the swimming technique can help you “float” on the snow, avalanche forecaster John Snook told the Los Angeles Times.

If you get buried, try to keep one hand straight up and carve out an air pocket with the other, Snook said.

“The climber who was caught in the avalanche survived but he was very, very lucky,” Viglione said.

Photo: Massimo Merlini/Getty Images

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