Search for eight missing in Alps called off: Swiss police

The search for eight hikers missing in the Swiss Alps has been called off, police announced on Saturday, three days after they were lost in a massive landslide.

Search for eight missing in Alps called off: Swiss police
The eight missing were hiking Wednesday on the Piz Cengalo mountain, near the Italian border, when the landslide struck. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

“We have done everything possible to find them, but (police) rescue official Andrea Mittner has announced this afternoon that the search has now been abandoned,” Sandra Scianguetta, police spokeswoman for the eastern canton of Grisons, told AFP.

“We will not now be able to find anyone,” Mittner was cited by Swiss media as saying.

The eight missing – four Germans, two Austrians and two Swiss – were hiking Wednesday on the Piz Cengalo mountain, near the Italian border, when the landslide struck, sending mud, rocks and dirt cascading down the mountain.

About 100 people were evacuated from the border village of Bondo, which was hit by the debris.

About 120 emergency workers equipped with infrared cameras and mobile phone detectors, helicopters and rescue dogs had been scouring a five-square-kilometre (1.9-square-mile) area of the disaster.

Dramatic footage from Wednesday showed an entire mountainside disintegrating, unleashing a mass of thick mud and sludge that tore up trees and demolished at least one building.

The landslide was so severe that the vibrations set off seismometers across Switzerland, measuring the equivalent of a 3.0-magnitude earthquake, according to the Swiss Seismological Service.

Experts suggested that climate change could be partially to blame for the disaster, with melting permafrost and an adjacent glacier likely destabilising the landmass.

There could be more landslides in the area, local geologist Andreas Huwiler warned.


‘If we have an engine, they respect us less’: How e-bikes are shaking up the Bavarian Alps

Electric bikes on Alpine trails and mountain paths have become a subject of controversy in Germany. Should they be allowed?

'If we have an engine, they respect us less': How e-bikes are shaking up the Bavarian Alps
Two people cycling in the Bavarian Alps near Oy. Photo: DPA

Robert Werner and his wife Ursula usually make time to say a friendly hello to hikers as they ride their gently whirring e-bikes up trails in the Bavarian Alps.

But more often than not, their greetings are met with frowns.

“The first thing they look at when they see us are our bikes,” says hotelier Robert, 46, of his electric-powered bicycle.

“If we have an engine, they respect us less.”

While the Werners are convinced of the virtues of e-bikes which have pedals but also an electric motor that can assist the rider's pedal power, others are less enthusiastic about the new revolution in cycling.

On their e-bikes, the couple powers up the 800-metre (2,600-foot) ascent to the summit of Herzogstand mountain in half an hour – without breaking a sweat.

Many purists believe exploits into nature should be powered by muesli bars, not the electricity grid, and regard the assisted cycling boom as another hi-tech intrusion into the great outdoors.

The presence of e-bikes on Alpine trails and mountain paths has become a subject of controversy.

Complaints by hikers have appeared in the German media often accusing e-bike enthusiasts of whizzing up and down the paths, posing a risk of collision, while others point to environmental concerns.

READ ALSO: Pedal power: The rise and rise of cargo bikes in Germany

A man riding an e-bike in Würzburg, Bavaria. Photo: DPA

“Electric bicycles allow more people to access the paths,” including those that previously saw little use, said Friedl Kroenauer, 59, of environmental group BUND Naturschutz.

“This causes soil erosion, for example.”

Two-wheeled boom

For Kroenauer, who has a breathtaking view of Germany's highest peaks from his office, those who scale the region's mountains on e-bikes are cheating themselves.

“Getting to the top of a mountain is something you have to earn,” he insisted. “You have to feel that you have worked your muscles, you have to be exhausted.

“Electric mountain bikes make this notion of effort disappear,” added the hobby sportsman, a fan of walking and traditional cycling.

Despite similar criticisms from other outdoor purists, more and more people in Germany and elsewhere are using electric mountain bikes to reach summits.

In 2018, Germans bought nearly one million e-bikes, a quarter of them mountain bikes, according to a report by Germany's bicycle industry association, ZIV.

German bike manufacturers such as Haibike, Cube or Prophete, as well as motor and battery producer Bosch, have enjoyed the boom.

“The bicycle industry, and in particular the electric bicycle industry, is extremely important for Germany,” said David Eisenberger, communications manager for the ZIV association.

“It creates thousands of jobs – directly and indirectly, in tourism for example.”

READ ALSO: 10 important rules and tips for cycling safely in Germany

'Sharing the mountain better'

In Lenggries, a town of 9,000 residents, an hour's drive south of the city of Munich, the Werners opened a bicycle rental shop a few months ago next door to the hotel that they run – offering, of course, e-bikes.

“The demand is huge and the customers very diverse,” says Robert. “Everyone wants to try.”

Lenggries now offers three charging stations for e-bike batteries.

In a bid to reduce conflict with hikers, some Bavarian municipalities are considering setting up areas reserved for cyclists – both e-bikes and normal mountain bikes.

But Robert voices doubts: “How would that be regulated? It would be impossible.”

“It's just a matter of sharing the mountain better by following a few rules for living together,” he says, suggesting that hikers always be given priority over cyclists.

A similar debate emerged decades ago when conventional mountain bikes first appeared in the Alps, he recalls, adding, with a shrug: “Today no one complains anymore.”

By Pauline Curtet