Hotspots and Incidents » Disasters, catastrophes
Author`s name Michael Simpson

Extreme Tourism Claimed Lives of 50 People in 2003

This is the price people have to pay for the passion for extreme sports when it turns out they are not properly trained for these sports
The summer season is over for tourists going in for extreme activities. Within the past season, tourists have registered many conquered mountains and rivers, but also have lost some of their mates. The number of tragic accidents has been rather high in Russia this year. According to provisional results, about 50 people have tragically died or are still missing through participation in alpinism, mountain and water tourism. This is the price people have to pay for the passion for extreme sports when it turns out they are not properly trained for these sports. Here is the chronicle of some of the tragic accidents that have happened this year.

Altai. After wedding celebration, a young couple from the city of Novosibirsk left for mountain hiking promising they would be back on July 5. Their relatives became really anxious when no information about the couple was available on July 10 and appealed to the EMERCOM.

A group of 14 rescuers was taken to the glacier of Leonid in a helicopter. The rescuers wanted to follow the route chosen by the just-married couple; relatives of the young couple brought a map of the route. On the second day of the operation, the rescuers saw a rucksack on the mountain ridge. Downwards they noticed the bodies of two people lying motionlessly on the glacier, at a depth of 800 meters. The leader of the rescue group said that the couple followed a very difficult route about which they had learnt from the Internet. Unfortunately, the outfit and experience of the tourists was not adequate to the hard route.

This is sad but several hours before the dead bodies of the just-married tourists from Novosibirsk were discovered, another rescue group discovered two more dead bodies on the Altai Mountains. The people were a just-married couple from Moscow who had left for a honeymoon in mountains. Their dead bodies were discovered only in nine months after they had left for the mountain hiking.

Elbrus. Brothers Gerald and Brian Stuart from Canada mountaineered with two guides. The brothers rushed ahead as they wanted to ascend the mountain ahead of the rest of the group. The brothers first reached the western and then the eastern sides of the mountain. Suddenly, the weather became nasty, and the brothers could not come down from the mountain. The bodies of the Canadians have not been discovered yet.

Elbrus. Rescuers started searches for Polish alpinist Valek Gibal, 44. His mate explained that while ascending the mountain, Valek felt bad and at 5 a.m. started descending from the Pastukhov Rocks on his own. Nobody has ever seen the man. It is highly likely that Valek Gibal lost the route because of the strong wind and low visibility.

Altai. A group of Muscovites with Sergey Buslov at head left for a journey. The tourists planned to raft down the Koksa River, to cross the Katunsky mountain ridge and to raft down the Katun River. The group was to return home on August 17 as their vacations ended on August 18. None of the group has returned from the journey yet.

Elbrus. Rescuers discovered dead bodies of four young alpinists from the Czech Republic on the mountain saddle; the two girls and two boys froze to death during an overnight stop. Their tent was torn with the wind. One of the girls remained in the tent, two more members of the group were found five meters away from the tent and the fourth guy rolled down to the saddle and froze in the ice.

Karelia. Dmitri Ustinov, 34, became lost in the outskirts of the city of Belomorsk. He was expected to meet his tourist group on the Lezhnevo Lake but disappeared and still not found.  

Kamchatka. A group of 19 Czech tourists unsupported by a guide left to conquer the Klyuchevskoy volcano. Next day, when the group reached the height of 4,300 meters, slag talus rolled down the volcano. A 44-year-old tourist was hit with a stone in his head; the stroke was so heavy that the tourist slid down the slope. EMERCOM rescue arrived just on August 7 when the wounded was already dead.

The Oka River. A raft with five men from Poland on board turned upside-down at the Kharagolsky rapids; one man tragically died.

Sayany Mountains, the republic of Buryatia. A boat turned upside-down on one of the rapids of the Kitoi River; two raftsmen tragically died. One dead body was found in the evening the same day and delivered to the city of Chelyabinsk; another dead body was discovered on August 21 and buried on the bank of the Kitoi River.

Kamchatka. 14 Czech tourists arrived for rafting down the Bystraya River. Next day, the organizers of the tour contacted rescue services and reported one of the tourists felt badly. A bit later, the tourist died.

The beauty of the grand Elbrus lures extreme sportsmen from all over the world, and tourism agencies do cater for this interest. However, advertising booklets never mention at that how many people tragically die on Elbrus. The number of victims registered this year is the highest. Since January 2003, ten people have fallen victims to Elbrus.

At the same time, the average number of people dying in Russian mountains is 20-30 people. This one mountain "killed" one third of the total amount. This is the price self-assertive and inexperienced tourists pay when they start mountaineering. Very often tourists go to mountains having no necessary equipment and even essential medicines.

Elbrus is a very treacherous peak: it lures people with the seeming simplicity of ascending, the combination of the white snow, the blue sky and the perfect forms. But as soon as ingenuous tourists swallow the bait, troubles begin. The sudden change of the weather conditions is accompanied with strong winds, heavy snowstorms and the loss of visibility. Mountaineers may also catch the mountain sickness, feel the danger of cracks and hydrogen sulphide evaporations. In winter and spring the wind blows the snow off the peak and Elbrus turns into ice fields; the ice becomes really very strong at that.

Elbrus is one of the coldest places on the planet; even the summer temperature at its peak is below zero. In July, the same temperature is typical of Antarctic and Greenland only. The pressure on Elbrus is twice as lower than on the plain.

The publication prepared by Sergey Shibayev

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