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Mechanism of death in avalanche victims

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The autopsies of 12 victims from two snow avalanches in North-Norway are reported. Supportive evidence from non-autopsied and surviving victims is included. Consistent autopsy findings were prominent lung oedema, moderate cerebral oedema, extreme contraction of the left ventricle, petechiae in the superior vena cava drainage area, and acute congestion in lungs and kidneys. In four cases in whom no resuscitation was attempted, aortic oxygen pressure was in the range expected in pure asphyxial-type deaths in one and in pure cardiac-type deaths in three. No air pocket was seen in front of the mouth and nose in any of the fatal cases. Three fatal cases had fractures. It is concluded that the immediate cause of death in most cases was general body compression with acute respiratory and circulatory failure.

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Correspondence to Helge Stalsberg.

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Stalsberg, H., Albretsen, C., Gilbert, M. et al. Mechanism of death in avalanche victims. Vichows Archiv A Pathol Anat 414, 415–422 (1989).

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Key words

  • Avalanche
  • Asphyxia
  • Autopsy
  • Accidents
  • Traumatology