School trip ends in tragedy

HELPING HANDS: Firefighters carry a survivor from the site in Nasu, Tochigi prefecture yesterday Picture: AFP
HELPING HANDS: Firefighters carry a survivor from the site in Nasu, Tochigi prefecture yesterday
Picture: AFP

Seven pupils and one teacher killed as avalanche sweeps down Japanese hillside

An avalanche killed seven Japanese high school pupils and a teacher on a mountain climbing outing yesterday. A further 40 pupils were injured.

The avalanche swept down the hillside at about 8.30am near a ski slope in Nasu, 160km north of Tokyo, where high school pupils, accompanied by their teachers, were climbing, a government official said.

It triggered a major rescue mission, involving more than 100 troops, as they raced to assist emergency workers rescuing trapped pupils and staff.

Soldiers were brought in at the request of the Tochigi prefecture’s governor.

Heavy snowfall overnight had resulted in the cancellation of a planned climb, with pupils instead practising moving through snow on a ski slope as mountain survival training.

One pupil said that there had been a strong wind followed by a white mass heading towards him, before a teacher told them to get down and everyone was engulfed.

A total of 52 pupils and 11 teachers from seven high schools were on a three-day mountaineering expedition when disaster struck.

The avalanche struck on the final day of the excursion.

A warning had been issued for heavy snow and possible avalanches from Sunday, with the weather agency forecasting 30 centimetres of snow.

In the latest update, the bodies of seven pupils and one teacher, mostly from Otawara High School in Tochigi, had been found.

Of the 40 people injured, two pupils were in serious condition, a prefectural official said.

Experts said it was likely a surface avalanche, caused by a heavy snowfall accumulating on a previous deposit of slippery snow.

“This [outing] is an annual event. We have never had a major accident before,” one of the teachers said. “I am really shocked.” The ski resort had been closed for the season, according to the operator’s website, with the lift stopped and no skiers at the site.

But some of its facilities were made available for the high school mountaineering trip, organised by physical education authorities. – AFP, additional reporting by Danielle Demetriou

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