Study Finds Avalanche Victims With Long Burial Times (≥60 Min) Have Only 19% Chance of Survival

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Skiers are shown here shoveling debris from an avalanche.  | Credit: BCA Facebook

Surviving an avalanche burial is completely correlated with burial time. As a rule of thumb, the longer someone’s been buried the lower the chance of survival.

A recent study has been published where researchers looked at all completely buried avalanche victims with a burial duration of ≥60 min between 1997 and 2018 in Switzerland, and drew conclusions from the retrospective data. 

Researchers found that the overall survival rate for someone completely buried in an avalanche for 60 minutes or more is 19%. Attached below is the study’s abstract.

Abstract

Background

The survival of completely buried victims in an avalanche mainly depends on burial duration. Knowledge is limited about survival probability after 60 min of complete burial.

Aim

We aimed to study the survival probability and prehospital characteristics of avalanche victims with long burial durations.

Methods

We retrospectively included all completely buried avalanche victims with a burial duration of ≥60 min between 1997 and 2018 in Switzerland. Data were extracted from the registry of the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research and the prehospital medical records of the physician-staffed helicopter emergency medical services. Avalanche victims buried for ≥24 h or with an unknown survival status were excluded. Survival probability was estimated by using the non-parametric Ayer–Turnbull method and logistic regression. The primary outcome was survival probability.

Results

We identified 140 avalanche victims with a burial duration of ≥60 min, of whom 27 (19%) survived. Survival probability shows a slight decrease with increasing burial duration (23% after 60 min, to <6% after 1400 min, p = 0.13). Burial depth was deeper for those who died (100 cm vs 70 cm, p = 0.008). None of the survivors sustained CA during the prehospital phase.

Conclusions

The overall survival rate of 19% for completely buried avalanche victims with a long burial duration illustrates the importance of continuing rescue efforts. Avalanche victims in CA after long burial duration without obstructed airway, frozen body or obvious lethal trauma should be considered to be in hypothermic CA, with initiation of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and an evaluation for rewarming with extracorporeal life support.
Probing avalanche debris | Credit: BCA Facebook

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