UTSUNOMIYA, Japan – Seven high school students and one teacher were confirmed dead as a result of the avalanche that hit a joint high school mountaineering training session in Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture, on Monday, police said.
The eight victims, all male, belonged to prefectural Otawara High School, according to the Tochigi prefectural police. They suffocated as a result of their injuries or were crushed to death.
Another 33 students and seven teachers were injured in the avalanche that occurred at Nasu Onsen Family Ski Resort on Monday morning. Heavy snow and avalanche advisories had been issued in the area at the time of the incident.
The prefectural police are expected to question officials involved in organizing the training for possible professional negligence resulting in injury and death.
According to the Tochigi Prefectural Board of Education, spring training for safety mountaineering was held from Saturday to Monday at the town-run facility.
A total of 62 people – 51 first-year and second-year students and 11 teachers – took part in the training held by the Tochigi prefectural federation of high school physical education.
The students are members of mountaineering clubs at six prefectural high schools and one private school.
On the first day, they took classes such as a lecture on how to set up a tent, and on the second, they participated in exercises including training for walking on snow.
On the third and final day, they initially planned to climb the 1,915-meter (6,282-foot) Chausudake mountain, but that was canceled at 6 a.m. due to heavy snow. The activity was then changed to training for wading through deep snow.
The federation’s chairman and vice chairman, who are also experienced climbers, are primarily in charge of deciding whether to change activities during the training, according to sources. Two teachers from Otawara High School and Mooka High School served as chairman and vice chairman and led the three-day training session. They were not harmed in the avalanche.
Forty-eight participants in four groups took part in the deep snow training on the third day. They began the session on a steep incline in woods near the second slope at about 8 a.m.
Otawara High School students were leading the procession when the avalanche occurred at an elevation of about 1,550 meters and engulfed them about 200 meters below.
The bodies of the eight victims were found within a radius of about 10 meters, according to sources close to the rescue activities. The eight were among those leading the procession during the deep snow training.
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