National

Police look to build negligence case in avalanche tragedy

Kyodo

Police on Thursday inspected a ski resort in Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture, where an avalanche killed seven students and a teacher this week as they look to build a possible case of professional negligence.

Around 15 police officers and rescue workers conducted the on-site investigation at Nasuonsen Family Ski Resort and nearby areas in Tochigi Prefecture to look into whether organizers of the school mountaineering trip, which was held despite an active avalanche warning, can be held responsible.

The snowslide occurred Monday morning as local high school students and teachers were undergoing training to learn how to walk through deep snow above the resort’s ski run.

Seven boys, members of a local school’s competitive mountaineering club, and a 29-year-old teacher were killed and 40 others were injured.

They were taking part in a three-day winter climbing camp organized by a Tochigi prefectural high school athletic federation from Saturday.

Given the bad weather and the issuance of an avalanche warning, the initial plan to go mountain climbing had been changed to the snow-traversing lesson.

Shuichi Inose, adviser to the mountaineering club at Otawara High School who was in charge of the training camp, said at a news conference on Wednesday that they were aware of the risk of an avalanche the day before the incident but thought there would be “no problem” so long as they avoided areas where snowslips were likely to occur.

According to the Nasu town government, however, there is a valley close to the recent avalanche-hit area where more snow deposits tend to accumulate. The ski resort often suspends operations in March when temperatures rise and heavy snowfalls increases the risk of avalanches. The ski resort halted operations from Feb. 25 to March 1 and ended the season on March 20.

The school athletic federation borrowed the key to the ski resort’s rest house so that students could use the facility during its annual winter mountaineering lesson.

However, it did not indicate what kinds of lessons would be carried out to the ski resort’s operator Nasu Mirai or the town government, which owns the resort.