FALL INTO CREVASSE, CLIMBING UNROPED, POOR POSITION
Alaska, Mount McKinley
On April 16, 1986, Thierry Broisat (30), Michel Legras (27), Patricia Tuveri (25) and Jean-Francois Tuveri (27), members of the French “Edelweiss” expedition to climb the West Buttress of Mount McKinley, were flown to the 2500 meter level of the Kahiltna Glacier by pilot Doug Geeting. By April 20, they were about a kilometer west of the normal route up the Kahiltna Glacier at the 3000 meter level. This is a more heavily crevassed area of the glacier than the normal route.
Broisat and Legras were skiing on 30 centimeter skis while pulling a sled containing approximately 45 kilograms of gear. They were both tied to the same sled with separate lines. Broisat was in the lead with six meters of rope between him and the sled, and Legras was two meters behind him. The Tuveris were roped together about 40 meters apart and were pulling a sled. They were slightly ahead of Broisat and Legras. At 1000, they heard a “whump” sound and saw a cloud of snow as Broisat and Legras disappeared into a hole in the snow.
Jean-Francois Tuveri rappelled 25 meters into the crevasse, discovered Legras partially buried (only his feet were visible), and determined that he was dead. Broisat was completely buried and could not be immediately recovered.
The French party was not carrying a radio. A Korean party of four climbers who had followed the French team’s tracks arrived at the scene at 1300 and helped remove Legras from the crevasse. The Koreans contacted Lowell Thomas of Talkeetna Air Taxi by CB radio who then contacted the National Park Service climbing rangers in Talkeetna at 1330. The initial report was that two people had fallen into a crevasse and their condition was unknown. Communication was complicated because of the French and Korean language differences.
Park Rangers Gill and Moore flew onto the Kahiltna Glacier in a Bell 212 helicopter arriving at the scene at 1630. Doug Geeting flew a fixed wing aircraft in the area to assist communication. The Korean party was directed onto the regular climbing route and they left the area. Gill rappelled into the crevasse to assess the situation. The top of the crevasse, a snow bridge three to ten meters thick, had apparently collapsed and the debris had wedged itself into the crevasse 25 meters down. Below the debris, the crevasse was at least another ten meters deep. The opening formed was six meters wide and 50 meters long.
Moore and the Tuveris hauled two packs out while Gill dug through the snow and ice debris following Broisat’s sled rope. Broisat was found under one meter of snow and determined to be dead. His body was removed and then hauled out at 1800. Gill and Moore returned to Talkeetna via helicopter accompanying the bodies at 1900.
The Tuveris descended about 100 meters below the accident site and set up camp on April 20. Bad weather prevented them from continuing their descent to Kahiltna Base Camp until April 22. Doug Geeting picked them up at 1400 on April 22 and flew them to Talkeetna. (Source: Ralph Moore, SAR Ranger, Denali National Park)
The Tuveris indicated that Broisat and Legras thought the danger of crevasse falls in the area was minimal. A difference of opinion on this between the two groups resulted in different methods of roping up and of tying the sled into the rope. None of the four had heard sounds of the snowpack settling that day, nor had they seen or heard anything to indicate a weak layer in the snow. The direction of travel of Broisat and Legras was parallel to the direction the crevasse was running and directly over it. Broisat and Legras were only two meters apart. Their combined weight plus the weight of the sled created a 225 kilogram force in a small area. While a probing of the area would not have revealed that a crevasse was present, the undulations in the windpacked snow suggested that crevasses were in the area and a placing of at least 25 meters would have been more appropriate. Broisat was an experienced Chamonix guide, but his chosen method of tie-in offered no protection in the event of a crevasse fall. (Source: Ralph Moore, SAR Ranger, Denali National Park)