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Could Switzerland see a record number of mountain deaths this year?

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Could Switzerland see a record number of mountain deaths this year?
The Rega rescue service is being called out more than ever before, partly because of mobile phones. File photo: Depositphotos
10:11 CEST+02:00
Heading up to the mountains is a national pastime in Switzerland but 2018 got off to a particularly deadly start and experts are worried the Alpine country is set for a record number of mountain fatalities this year.

Eighty people died while carrying out sporting activities in the Swiss mountains from January to June this year. That’s more than double the number of people who died in the same period last year, and well up on the average 45 deaths seen in years previously, according to the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC).

The organisation has blamed the high number of deaths in the first half of the year on the dangerous avalanche situation in Switzerland this spring and warns that the good weather over the summer could lead to the country seeing a record number of mountain deaths in 2018.

Read also: 'Now I know what hell is like' - survivor of Swiss Alps tragedy

“Most accidents happen in July and August, so we have to assume that the numbers will rise sharply by the end of the year,” Ueli Mosimann with the SAC’s safety unit told Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger.

Good weather means more people heading to the mountains. In the hot summer of 2015, there were 142 deaths in the mountains but in the cool, rainy summer of 2014, 96 people died.

The SAC figures only include so-called ‘classic’ mountain activities such as hiking, high mountain tours, ski touring and climbing. Sports such as BASE jumping, paragliding and mountain biking are not included. But the alpine organisation notes figures would definitely be higher if mountain biking figures were factored in as the sport has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Hiking is responsible for most deaths

In terms of the most dangerous activities covered by the SAC stats, hiking comes top, accounting for 37 percent of all deaths from 1984 to 2017, followed by high mountain touring (29 percent) and ski touring (17 percent).

Hiking is the most popular of these activities and many people are unaware of the potential risks.

Around three quarters of people who die in the Swiss mountains are men, the stats show. A third of the people who die are alone and nearly half are foreign tourists.

Interestingly, the Swiss boom in the popularity of mountain activities in recent years – the number of mountain climbers has doubled in the last 30 years according to the SAC – has not meant a general rise in the overall number of fatalities. However, from 2000 to 2017, the number of reported accidents rose 62 percent from 17,700 to 28,860.

Switzerland's mountain rescue service, the Rega, is also being called out more and more often. Around 2000 people were rescued in 2007 but a decade later this figure was over 2,700.

Mosimann of the SAC noted mobile phones were now making it easier for people to call the Rega, which could lead to expensive, unnecessary rescues. However, he also noted mobile phones save lives. The SAC recommends people install the Rega app on their phones.

Read also: Hikers saved by WhatsApp message after falling in Swiss mountains

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