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Faster help for avalanche victims

Victims buried by an avalanche only have a chance of survival if they can be quickly and precisely located under the snow. A novel position-ing system, which will use the signals of Europe’s future satellite sys-tem ‘Galileo’, is to help improve the search.

It’s the start of the skiing season: Attracted by bright sunshine and fresh snow, winter sports enthusiasts flock to the snow-covered slopes. But for some, the white splendor will prove fatal, especially for those who wander off-piste. Time and again, ski hikers are caught out by avalanches. In the search for buried victims, every minute counts.

If they are not rescued within half an hour of the accident, their chances of survival rapidly decline. The best prospects of success are if uninjured companions immediately start looking for buried members of the group. In order to do this, however, they must be equipped with ‘avalanche beepers’ – and know how to operate them.

A skilled team of mountain and air rescue workers and police can generally perform a far more accurate search. From the helicopter, they can usually locate victims to within about 20 meters while preparing to land. “The main difficulty at present lies in narrowing it down to the last one or two meters,” explains Gerd Waizmann of proTime GmbH. “We intend to improve this fine search with the help of a new, automatic positioning system,” adds Wolfgang Inninger of the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML in Prien. The basis for this will be Europe’s future satellite navigation system Galileo. The project will be implemented by a consortium of regional companies, institutes and universities, and will be sponsored by the German Aerospace Center DLR with funds from the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology BMWi.

In order to develop the system, the researchers will use the Galileo Test and Development Environment GATE in Berchtesgaden, where transmitting antennas on six mountain tops simulate Galileo’s signals. These signals – and later the real ones – are to be combined with currently available satellite navigation systems such as America’s GPS, and will also be offset against error estimation and correction signals. “By pooling this multitude of information sources, we will be able to locate avalanche casualties with an accuracy of less than one meter, even in steep terrain,” stresses Inninger. A light, easy-to-use hand set will show search parties the located position and lead them to it. In order to ensure that ‘Galileo SAR Lawine’, as the system is called, meets the requirements of its future users, the rescue workers of the Berchtesgaden mountain rescue service, the German federal police and the Bavarian police are being involved in all the important development phases of the project.

Press Office | alfa
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