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France avalanche: Boy 'miraculously' survives after being trapped for 40 minutes

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By Darin Graham  & Emma Beswick  with AFP
A generic view of an off-piste area in the French Alps
A generic view of an off-piste area in the French Alps   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot/File Photo

A child survived after spending 40 minutes buried under an avalanche in Savoie, France, on Wednesday, mountain rescuers said.

The 12-year-old boy was on an off-piste section with six relatives, including his parents, at the La Plagne resort when he was swept away and buried, according to police.

The large avalanche, which hit the boy at an altitude of 3,000 metres, was 800 metres long and "more than 4 metres deep".

He was found conscious 40 minutes later by a rescue dog. The boy was transported to Grenoble hospital where he was placed under observation but did not have a fractured leg as initial reports suggested, according to AFP.

"It's a miracle because he was not wearing an avalanche detector (DVA)," a representative from the high mountain rescue team (PGHM) said. "The chances of survival are slim after fifteen minutes in the snow, he was very lucky."

"He was dragged several hundred metres without being crushed by the force of the snow," said commander of the Savoie mountain police Patrice Ribes. The boy "did not inhale any snow."

Ribes called for caution in the face of uneven snow cover conditions above 2,500 metres.

The young skier avoided asphyxiation thanks to the "poor quality" of the snow, which allowed good air circulation, according to the emergency services.

A team of piste workers from La Plagne who had just been dropped off by helicopter on a slope opposite the avalanche saw it go off and could therefore limit the search area.

Around thirty people, including members of the ski patrol and ski-lift workers, were quickly mobilized to probe the snow, joined later by gendarmes from the Courchevel mountain rescue team.

"He was conscious when he was found because he shouted when he heard the sound played out by the gendarme," said Luc Nicolino, piste manager.

"He had a small amount of snow in his mouth and knee and thigh pain but the doctor wasn't worried about him," he added. 

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner posted on Twitter congratulating Gétro the rescue dog and his handler, Raphaël Chauvin who located the child.