The researchers modeled how such winds might have accumulated snow above the tent and how long it would have taken to reach a critical load that would cause the top slab to slide from the weaker layer below, keeping its integrity. structural was compromised by the Couper. “This is how the load increased,” explains Gaume. “Because there was no other way – there was no snow that night.” Some time after midnight, enough weight had accumulated on top of the weak layer that it suddenly collapsed, sending the slab into the tent. It would have been a relatively small avalanche – perhaps 16 feet by 16 feet – that the researchers simulated based on Disney’s snow model. That would have been enough to fill the hole the campers had dug in the snow, but not enough for the rescue team to find obvious signs of an avalanche 26 days later.
An avalanche, however, does not have to be large to cause serious damage to the human body. As a general rule, hikers who find themselves caught in one are at risk of suffocation. But in this case, none of the nine victims died of suffocation, and some suffered severe chest and head trauma.
This can also be explained by the dynamics of the plate avalanche and downdraft winds. Although it was not snowing at the time of the incident, the katabatic winds would have produced a much more dangerous type of deposit above the tent. “The wind was eroding and carrying the snow, which was made of very small crystals,” says Gaume. “And then when he deposits, [the crystals] are very compacted. It could have created a dense slab of snow that weighed perhaps 25 pounds per cubic foot. And even more unfortunate for our adventurers, they had put their skis down as the ground for their tent, creating a hard substrate for the snow to crush them.
Gaume and Puzrin went even further in modeling what this trauma might have looked like. To calibrate their simulation, they used data from old auto industry crash tests performed using human corpses rather than mannequins. (To be honest, it was the 1970s, it was a … different time.) They then modeled the release of simulated snow blocks of different sizes on a digital model of a human body, and compared it. to the results of the crash test. “What we saw was that it wouldn’t be fatal, but it would create moderate to severe injury,” Gaume says. (Below you can see the damage a piece of snow that is three feet in diameter could cause.)
From there, they concluded that the climbers survived the initial crash of the snow, making their way out of the tent, although some of them were seriously injured. But if they had escaped a relatively small avalanche, why would they flee more than half a mile away, instead of staying to retrieve their supplies, especially their boots? Investigators discovered that the group had actually hidden another set of supplies in the forest, so perhaps they left for them in a panic. “You start cutting the tent from the inside to get out,” says Gaume. “You see that there was an avalanche, and then you might be afraid of a second avalanche. And maybe they decided that the best option would probably be to go into the forest, build a fire, and try to find supplies.