At least six people have died and up to 15 people are thought to be missing after a large glacier column collapsed into a landslide in the Italian Dolomites. While hikers enjoyed the popular route at Marmolada peak, the ice cleaved off the glacier and created a huge landslide of ice and rock, crashing into a number of people along the trail and sweeping away multiple parties who were roped onto the rocks at the time.
Nine are currently injured and receiving treatment, and it is thought that foreign nationals are among the dead.
The National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps of Italy have since been tweeting updates about the incident, including a helpline if you have friends and family members who may not have returned from their expedition.
Helicopters and canine units are now exploring the area for survivors, though the search was paused amid fears of another glacier collapse.
It is thought the incident resulted from the collapse of a serac, a notoriously dangerous feature of glaciers typically found on high peaks. A serac is a large column or block of ice, typically many stories tall, that forms a vertical wall that is liable to collapse at any point. Their unpredictable and often catastrophic nature has gained them a reputation among the most dangerous areas of a mountain summit.
Likely the most famous series of seracs tower above the Bottleneck, an integral part of the most popular route to the summit of K2 – the second-highest mountain on Earth. The Bottleneck is a narrow couloir (a channel in a mountain) overlooked by multiple seracs from the eastern ice field. These seracs have been responsible for the vast majority of fatalities that have occurred on K2. As climbers attempt to navigate the tricky technical portion of the Bottleneck, sudden collapses of the seracs above lead to either direct impacts with climbers or the removal of safety ropes and safe routes above or below their current positions. The infamous 2008 K2 disaster was a direct result of an ice avalanche at the Bottleneck, causing the deaths of 11 mountaineers and the injury of three others.
The collapse at Marmolada peak may be partially due to extreme heat in the area, with temperatures reaching 10°C (50°F), according to local officials.
“The heat is unusual,” said Walter Milan, spokesman for the Corps, in a statement reported by the Guardian.
“That’s extreme heat. Clearly it’s something abnormal.”