These two winter sports enthusiasts are lucky to be alive after surviving four nights in a mountain hut at 2,457 metres after getting stuck near Maria Alm in the Pinzgau region of Austria.
Mining students Tom Starke and Tim Lutz both aged 20 from Freiberg, Germany, had started out on a snow shoe trek on Friday despite adverse weather conditions, freezing temperatures and a severe avalanche risk in the area.
After four days in a hut the men were eventually rescued by helicopter when conditions briefly improved – allowing the helicopter to fly to winch them back to the valley to safety.
An earlier attempt to rescue the men on Monday had to be aborted due to dangerous weather conditions making a helicopter flight impossible.
The men had become trapped on the mountain when they started to make their descent and became aware of severe avalanche danger.
Lutz said: “We planned to walk down the mountain, but the avalanche danger was just too risky.
He added: “The avalanche warning risk when we set off was level 2 (Avalanches may be triggered when heavy loads are applied, especially on a few generally identified steep slopes. Large spontaneous avalanches are not expected) but the forecast was for improved weather conditions. The warning of bad weather came too late for us.”
On Saturday morning the men raised alarm after getting into difficulty.
They took refuge in the Wildalmkirchl-Biwak hut, a survival hut meant for skiers and walkers who get stranded on the mountain and a place for wanderers to stay overnight on mountain tours in the summer months owned by the Austrian Tourist Association.
The hut had sleeping bags and blankets which kept the men warm.
Bernd Tritscher from the Saalfelden Mountain Rescue said: “In this hut there were sleeping bags and blankets with places for eight people. They were in a good place there.
It is an emergency accommodation. Luckily for the men there was a gas stove and some spare gas cartridges. The men were able to melt snow to drink and had biscuits and cereal bars which they were able to ration.
Lutz added: “There were some books in the hut. I read a Dan Brown book. We had a chess game with us and a pack of cards. Once we got to the hut I felt safe. But the way to the hut was precarious due to the avalanche risk.
“It was extremely cold, but the hut had plenty of blankets. We had to melt snow for drinking water. We also had enough food for a day.
Mountain rescuer Bernd Tritscher said: “I am pleased with the happy end to the situation. Luckily the men stayed put and did not try to rescue themselves.
Many alpine experts have criticized the men for setting off in such weather conditions.
On Tuesday morning Tritscher was able to make contact with the men and tell them that a helicopter launched by the Interior Ministry was on its way to rescue them.
The men had to prepare the area for the landing and were given instructions for the helicopters landing and how to draw attention to themselves when the helicopter came into view.
The men are in a good condition – they are tired and hungry but were said to be looking forward to a hot bath and a good meal.