100 School Kids Rescued in Austrian Alps on ‘Classic After-Work’ Hike

Researching your route before you embark on an adventure into the unknown is a critical step for any explorer. But what do you do if the available information fails you?

When that outcome prevailed, a casual field trip turned into a catastrophe earlier this week in the Austrian Alps.

Ninety-nine German students aged 12-14 and eight teachers required a massive rescue after getting stuck on a ridgeline in worsening conditions on Tuesday. Police said that the trail they chose in the Vorarlberg state in western Austria was significantly more demanding than their online research suggested.

Underprepared, despite internet assurances

“Due to a query in an internet search engine, the teaching staff decided on a route that was no longer signposted,” police told Agence France Presse (AFP). The teacher who coordinated the trip found the route “described on the internet as a classic after-work tour,” it added.

Reportedly, the rain started falling as the group approached the Walmendingerhorn summit (1,990m). The route, according to police, requires climbing, firm shoes, and alpine experience. But some students had arrived underprepared, prompting one teacher to decide to turn around.

When two pupils slipped and sustained minor injuries, the teacher called in the heavies. Police said some of the group had started to panic when they made contact.

“Several students were exhausted, chilled, wet and completely distraught,” they said. The students’ condition proved so untenable that police called in a crisis intervention team to assist.

In all, 60 rescuers, including the local mayor, responded to the incident, plucking all 107 waylaid hikers from the ridge with two helicopters.

State police spokesman Wolfgang Duer said the trail, as it exists, contrasts sharply from the casual outing the internet reflects.

“The path is no longer in official tour guides…it was relatively difficult and exposed,” Duer told AFP. He added that for his staff, “the unusual part was the amount of people having to be rescued.”

Walmendingerhorn sits above a modest ski resort of the same name.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.