Snowboarders killed in avalanche

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The Independent Online

Relatives of ten people, most of them German snowboarders, who were killed by an avalanche in Russia's remote Kamchatka region at the weekend are expected to arrive at the scene of the accident today.

The ten died when the helicopter carrying them was hit by an avalanche after landing on a ski slope on Saturday. The alarm was raised after their helicopter disappeared from radio contact and a search operation was launched. The Mi-8 helicopter had been carrying 18 people, including 12 tourists from Germany and Belgium, on an extreme heli-ski trip, and had landed at the top of a slope. When rescuers arrived they found that the helicopter had been completely crushed by the avalanche and carried more than 200 metres down the slope. Two of the three crew members died, while one miraculously survived and was cut from the wreckage.

All the snowboarders had left the helicopter at the time of the avalanche – eight of them were killed, and one was seriously injured, while five were rescued unharmed. The local authorities said that the avalanche contained around 2 million cubic metres of snow, and was most likely set off by the snowboarders moving down the slope.

Kamchatka is a sparsely populated peninsula dotted with pristine lakes and active volcanoes in the Far East of Russia, thousands of miles and eight time zones away from Moscow. Every year it attracts a small number of Russian and foreign tourists seeking extreme adventure. It is perhaps the only place in the world where it is possible to ski down the edge of an active volcano while looking out over the ocean. Tourist companies based on the peninsula say they accept only extremely competent skiers and snowboarders .

Despite the fact that the peninsula is roughly twice the size of Britain, there are few populated points outside the capital, Petropavlovsk, and most transport around Kamchatka has to be done using an aging fleet of Mi-8 helicopters.

There were two teenagers on board the helicopter – a 13-year-old German boy and the 15-year-old grandson of the captain. The Russian boy died, while the German survived but lost his father to the accident. The bodies of the victims are expected to be transported to Moscow tomorrow.