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What should you do if you are caught in an avalanche?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. If an avalanche is bearing down, the best thing you can do is try to get away from its track. If you still get caught up in the avalanche, the first thing you should do is lose your ski equipment. If you keep the skis on, they can get caught in the snow and make it more likely you'll break a leg. Use a swimming motion to stay on (or get to) the surface of the slab. Try to grab on to a tree to get away from the snow. As the snow slows, it means you're getting close to its runout - - the point where it all stops. This is where the snow can pack, so cup your hand over your mouth to create an air pocket. Then thrust an arm or leg up out of the snow as soon as you stop so rescuers can see you.

    Most fatalities that happen as a result of avalanches are due either to physical trauma, suffocation or hypothermia. Physical trauma can happen at any point, but suffocation and hypothermia deaths generally occur once the avalanche ends. As snow continues to the runout, it gets increasingly compact and can become as hard as concrete. It can often be impossible to dig out after being caught in the runout. People who are caught must wait for rescue, increasing their chances of dying from suffocation or hypothermia.

    You don't have a lot of time once you get buried. Most sources say that if you're completely buried in an avalanche, you can live for about 18 minutes. Snow may be porous and can contain a lot of trapped oxygen, but won't offer you good air to breathe when packed around you. You're likely to get carbon dioxide poisoning from breathing in your exhaled air. Your warm breath also will melt some of the snow - - temporarily. Once that snow refreezes, it will become ice and block up any spots that had been letting in oxygen.

    If you see someone who can't get out of the way of an avalanche, keep visual contact with him as he gets pushed down the mountain. This way, you'll have a good idea where he is once he stops, especially if he's buried. Keep a visual clue to identify where he is. If you're part of a large group, send someone for help, but the rest of you will have to try to dig out the trapped person or people yourselves. If you're the only one nearby, there may not be time for you to go for help. You're the buried person's best chance for rescue. If you have to dig someone out, wait a few minutes once the avalanche has stopped to be certain it's over.

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