Two rescued hikers in the Pyrenees eventually died in hospital

by Lorraine Williamson
Two hikers

VIELHA – Once again it has become clear that you should always take nature seriously. Two hikers who were found unconscious on Wednesday in the Boí Valley in the Catalan Pyrenees have died as a result of extreme hypothermia. 

The two were found near Lake Contraix at noon at an altitude of 2,500 metres. The hospital of Vall d’Hebron confirmed the death of the first victim on Thursday morning. Furthermore, the medical team was also unable to save the second victim. 

Both were found in serious condition. One of them had a body temperature of 16 degrees. According to doctors, that is “incompatible with life”. Hypothermia is considered very serious by experts when the body temperature is below 24 degrees. 

Two hikers 60-years-of-age

The two hikers, a couple of French nationalities and both 60 years old had left the mountain hut Ventosa I Calvell on Tuesday, located at an altitude of about 2,200 metres. It appeared they were planning to carry out one of the demanding stages of the Carros de Foc route. But most likely, they were overtaken by wind and rain. The hikers managed to descend to Lake Contraix, where they probably spent the night in the open air. 

It was right there, at an altitude of about 2,500 metres, where other mountaineers found them unconscious the next morning and alerted the emergency services. In the area, the ambient temperature is especially low at night. 

The fire brigade activated the rescue group and a doctor to provide first aid until the arrival of the emergency services. They mobilised two medicalised helicopters to transport them to the hospital. First, a transfer action was carried out for the heaviest victim, after which his companion was mobilised, also to Vall d’Hebron. At four o’clock in the afternoon, the two victims were already in the centre of Barcelona. 

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“At 16 degrees you are technically dead” 

The priority of the doctors at Vall d’Hebron was to gradually increase body heat so that the organs restored their functions. “At 16 degrees, you’re technically dead,” Jaume Sellarès, vice president of the Official College of Physicians of Barcelona, ​​summed up Wednesday. “At this temperature, the body is not breathing nor the heart working,” he insisted, emphasising the difficulty of CPR. The loss of function of the organs, especially the heart, restricts blood flow and oxygen transport, which already created a high risk of tissue damage. 

Experts consider a patient to be mildly hypothermic if the body is between 32 and 35 degrees. Moderate hypothermia is diagnosed in bodies between 28 and 32 degrees when there is already a risk of unconsciousness. Below 28 degrees, hypothermia is severe and consciousness is lost. Below 24 degrees, according to the European Resuscitation Council (ERC), “suspended death” is observed, with no vital signs. 

Second rescue in a week 

This is the second rescue in the Aigüestortes Natural Park this week. On Tuesday, firefighters already went looking for another couple with symptoms of hypothermia in the municipality of Torre de Cabdella (Pallars Jussà). After they were found, the two were taken to Pallars Regional Hospital. The woman showed a picture of moderate hypothermia and the man’s light. They survived their ordeal. 

The Aigüestortes National Park is popular with hikers of all levels and those who enjoy other outdoor activities. 

Also read: Woman emerges unharmed after 6-hour ordeal at sea

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