Austrian skier survives five hours buried in snow after avalanche, rescue called a ‘Christmas miracle’

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The rescue of an Austrian skier who was found alive after being buried by an avalanche for more than five hours is being called a “Christmas miracle.”

Police in Upper Styria – the mountainous and forested region in southern Austria – said they were alerted Christmas Day that a 26-year-old skier had not returned from the slopes.

The man who alerted police said he had managed to get through to the skier’s mobile phone but heard only “crackling noises” on the line, the BBC reported.

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A rescue team was able to trace the skier beneath more than 3 feet of snow using an electronic avalanche victim’s transceiver, which skiers are required to wear in avalanche-prone areas. It pinpointed the man on a slope of Mount Pleschnitzzinken, in the northwestern area of Upper Styria.

Rescue forces search for missing people after an avalanche swept down a ski piste in the central town of Andermatt, canton Uri, Switzerland, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019. The avalanche occurred mid-morning Thursday while many holiday skiers enjoyed mountain sunshine the day after Christmas.

Rescue forces search for missing people after an avalanche swept down a ski piste in the central town of Andermatt, canton Uri, Switzerland, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019. The avalanche occurred mid-morning Thursday while many holiday skiers enjoyed mountain sunshine the day after Christmas. (Keystone via AP)

“You can’t move under a blanket of snow like this,” Stefan Schröck of the Styria mountain rescue service told Austrian public broadcaster ORF. “The man was extremely lucky he had a big enough air pocket under the blanket of snow, so he had oxygen too and was able to breathe.”

The man was found more than two hours after authorities were first alerted. However, the avalanche hit the region three hours before that.

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A rescue team and local police dogs dug the man out of the snow and he was taken down the valley suffering from hypothermia. He was otherwise unharmed.

An avalanche also swept across a marked ski trail near the Swiss town of Andermatt on Thursday, injuring two people.

Rescue forces search for missing people after an avalanche swept down a ski piste in the central town of Andermatt, canton Uri, Switzerland, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019. The avalanche occurred mid-morning Thursday while many holiday skiers enjoyed mountain sunshine the day after Christmas.

Rescue forces search for missing people after an avalanche swept down a ski piste in the central town of Andermatt, canton Uri, Switzerland, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019. The avalanche occurred mid-morning Thursday while many holiday skiers enjoyed mountain sunshine the day after Christmas. (Urs Flueeler/Keystone via AP)

Four others were either rescued or extricated themselves from the snow unhurt.

Police and rescuers searched the snowslide after witnesses said more people might be buried, but the operation ended with police saying there were no more victims.

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The avalanche occurred mid-morning while many holiday skiers enjoyed mountain sunshine the day after Christmas. A police spokesman said it was an avalanche of considerable size.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.