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Army report blames overconfidence for training avalanche that injured six soldiers

6 soldiers survive avalanche in Vermont

A group of soldiers in advanced mountaineering training were swept up in an avalanche in the Vermont mountains, but survived with minor injuries.

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — A U.S. Army accident report suggests overconfidence was a factor when Vermont soldiers were hit by an avalanche during a training exercise.

The Burlington Free Press reported Wednesday that an instructor in the heavily redacted report said soldiers underestimated the overall avalanche risk and overestimated their ability to mitigate conditions.

Six soldiers were climbing an area of Smugglers Notch in Jeffersonville known as Easy Gully in March when the snow gave way. One soldier was able to swim to the side. The other five were swept about 900 feet, the newspaper reported.

Five of the soldiers were hospitalized for their injuries.

The soldiers were part of a training program in the Army's Mountain Warfare School run by the Vermont National Guard.

The report shows mountain school officials skipped a morning safety meeting the day of the avalanche, and no one in the squad had a beacon, shovel or probe.

Vermont National Guard soldiers on a training exercise emerge from a closed section on Vermont 108 in Cambridge, Vt., just below Smuggers Notch on March 14, after six soldiers were swept approximately 300 meters by an avalanche. (Ryan Mercer/The Burlington Free Press via AP)
Vermont National Guard soldiers on a training exercise emerge from a closed section on Vermont 108 in Cambridge, Vt., just below Smuggers Notch on March 14, after six soldiers were swept approximately 300 meters by an avalanche. (Ryan Mercer/The Burlington Free Press via AP)

One instructor told investigators that he would have turned back if he had been climbing Easy Gully on a day off.

The instructor said he believed the soldiers underestimated the overall avalanche risk and overestimated their ability to mitigate conditions.

Another soldier, identified as the Advanced Mountaineering Course non-commissioned officer in charge, said he held an advanced rating in avalanche safety.

The sergeant first class “shared his belief that the decision to be training in Easy Gully was his job and responsibility and this accident rested fully on his shoulders,” according to the report, the Burlington paper reported. “He felt his being overconfident in his avalanche mitigation contributed to the accident.”

Unseasonably warm weather, followed by days of intense snowfall, had created ideal avalanche conditions in Easy Gully, the newspaper reported.

The “Findings and Recommendations” section was redacted from the report.

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