Snow and Avalanche Center 2007 Avalanche News

8 months for ski instructor

A ski instructor, accused of manslaughter for not having respected his safety obligation towards his clients, has been sentenced to 8 months in prison (suspended) by the court in Nice. On the 4th of February last year Jean-Alexandre Echene, an experienced and popular ski instructor in the ski resort of Isola 2000, was hired by the Darmon family to guide them on some of the area’s off-piste runs.

Mr Echene was well known to Jacques Darmon, 50 years old and respected doctor specialized in ophthalmic medicine. The father of five children had apparently specified that Mr Echene should put the accent on safety. The avalanche risk was Considerable (3/5) on the day.

The instructor took the family to an couloir on the north-west side of the Méné, close to the run of the same name. It was a beautiful day after a week of poor weather. On the first section of the descent the instructor lead, then considering the dangers to be behind them he stayed at the back with Mr Darmon. It was at this point that the pair triggered an avalanche. Mr Echene was able to ski out of the slide. Mr Darmon was buried. Rescued in a serious condition he was airlifted to hospital where he died later.

The court decided that Mr Echene was overconfident given the avalanche risque and warnings posted in the ski resort and had not respected some basic safe travel procedures. The proceedings also put an accent on the fact that the route followed by Mr Darmon and Mr Echene was untracked. Evidence from avalanche experts said that the snowslab was resting on depth hoar (an unstable layer caused by temperature differences in the snow) and was triggered by the simultaneous passage of the two men. Mr Echene told the court that assessing the risk of avalanches is not an exact science. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy the widow of Mr Darmon had said words to a similar effect but retracted her statement after the death of her husband.

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