Prehospital resuscitation of the buried avalanche victim

High Alt Med Biol. 2011 Fall;12(3):199-205. doi: 10.1089/ham.2011.1025.


In North America and Europe, approximately 150 people die of avalanches per year, and fatalities are presumed to be many times higher in developing countries. Four factors are decisive for survival: grade of burial, duration of burial, presence of an air pocket and a free airway, and severity of trauma. According to Swiss data, the overall mortality rate with avalanche burial is 23%, but it largely depends on the grade of burial. While the mortality rate is 52.4% in completely buried (head below the snow) victims in the Swiss population, it is only 4.2% in partially buried (head free) victims. Additionally, survival in completely buried victims drops to 30% within the first 35 min, initially due to death from lethal trauma, followed by asphyxia in 20-35 min. Thereafter, survival decreases more gradually and victims who are not fatally injured and are able to breath under the snow slowly succumb to hypoxia, hypercapnia, and hypothermia. In the absence of fatal injuries, rescue strategies depend on the duration of burial and the victim's core temperature. With a burial time<35 min, survival depends on preventing asphyxia by rapid extrication, adequate airway management, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. With a burial time>35 min, tackling hypothermia is of utmost importance. Therefore, gentle extrication and continuous core temperature and electrocardiogram monitoring are recommended. Pulseless victims with a patent airway and a core temperature<32°C should receive uninterrupted cardiopulmonary resuscitation and be transported to a hospital with extracorporeal rewarming facilities.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asphyxia / prevention & control
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation*
  • Disasters*
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Heart Arrest / therapy
  • Humans
  • Hypercapnia / therapy
  • Hypothermia / therapy
  • Hypoxia / therapy
  • Snow
  • Time Factors