Longyearbyen man killed in major avalanche

Avalanche site in Fardalen

A Longyearbyen man was killed when an avalanche several hundred meters wide struck a popular snowmobiling area in Fardalen on Saturday morning, triggering a large-scale search for victims, according to The Governor of Svalbard.

Emanuel Storaunet, 21, a mechanic at the equipment rental shop Ingeniør G. Paulsen, was found early Saturday afternoon at the slide area about seven kilometers south of Longyearbyen, according to a statement by the governor’s office. A snowmobile registered in his name was found nearby.

“Snowmobiling was his great passion,” said Vebjørn Andresen, the shop’s manager, in an interview with Namdalsavisa. “I think that’s why he came to Svalbard. He was always busy with snowmobiles both at work and in his free time.”

Avalanche site map

The site where an avalanche struck in Fardalen, shown by the lower red circle, is heavily used by snowmobilers. Map courtesy of the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Twenty rescuers from the Longyearbyen Red Cross and governor’s office, a helicopter and an avalanche-trained dog spent several hours Saturday afternoon searching the area after being notified about the incident at 11:39 a.m. by snowmobilers arriving at the site.

“We had reports that the entire mountainside had come loose,” said Vidar Arnesen, a police chief lieutenant for the governor, in an interview with TV2.

The search was called off at about 5 p.m., with one area unexamined, due to the risk of additional slides at that spot.

“Based on the search in the area and other investigation there is no indication more people were caught,” the statement notes. “There is still an avalanche danger in the area. The governor is discouraging people from driving in Fardalen due to the current situation.”

A cold spell in the area has been followed by warmer temperatures with wind, rain and sleet, increasing the risk of avalanches.

Emanuel Storaunet in 2012

Emanuel Storaunet shows off his catch during a hunting and fishing trip on the mainland in 2012.

Storaunet was born and grew up in central mainland town of Lierne before moving to Longyearbyen and working at the rental shop that’s a subsidiary of Spitsbergen Travel, Svalbard largest tourism company. Scores of co-workers and friends filled Svalbard Church for a memorial service Monday morning at Svalbard Church.