Switzerland’s melting glaciers reveal human remains and plane wreckage

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The Guardian

Soaring temperatures are prompting Switzerland’s melting glaciers to reveal their secrets, with hikers this summer chancing upon two sets of unidentified human remains and a plane wreckage lost for more than half a century.

Two French alpinists found human bones last Wednesday while scaling the Chessjen glacier in the southern canton of Valais, a police spokesperson confirmed on Monday. The skeleton was airlifted from the glacier by helicopter on the same day.

The bones were discovered near an old path that fell into disuse about 10 years ago, said Dario Andenmatten, the warden of the Britannia mountain hut from where many Alpinists start their ascents in the region. The two hikers probably only made their discovery because they were relying on an old map.

Since little remained of the body other than bare bones, Andenmatten said he expected the person to have died “sometime in the 1970s or 80s”.

A week earlier, another body had been found on the Stockji glacier near the resort of Zermatt, north-west of the Matterhorn. In both cases, Valais police said the process of identifying human remains through DNA analysis was still under way and would take “a few more days”.

Police in the Alpine region maintain a list of about 300 cases of people who have gone missing since 1925. It includes the supermarket chain millionaire Karl-Erivan Haub – a triple German, Russian and US citizen who went missing in the Zermatt region while training for a skiing tour on 7 April 2018. German media have linked the body discovered on the Stockji glacier to Haub, who was legally declared dead in 2021.

However, one of the two hikers who discovered the body told Blick newspaper that the clothes they found were neon-coloured, “in the style of the 80s”. The corpse was mummified and slightly damaged, “but almost complete”, said Luc Lechanoine, 55.

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In the first week of August, a mountain guide discovered the wreckage of a plane that crashed over the Aletsch glacier, near the Jungfrau and Mönch mountain peaks, in June 1968.

“From afar, I thought I was looking at two backpacks”, said Dominik Nellen, 38. Closer inspection revealed the objects to be wreckage pieces of a Piper Cherokee aircraft that crashed in the area on 30 June 30 1968, carrying on board a teacher, a chief medical officer and his son, all from Zurich. The bodies were recovered at the time, but the wreckage was not.

After a winter with relatively little snowfall, the Swiss Alps have already experienced two severe summer heatwaves. In July, authorities advised alpinists against scaling the Matterhorn because of the unusually high temperatures, which nearly reached 30C in Zermatt.

During the July heatwave, the elevation at which water froze was measured at a record high of 5,184 metres, compared with the normal summer level of 3,000-3,500 metres.

August 9, 2022 at 06:56PM Philip Oltermann in Berlin

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