20 years from the avalanche which killed 12 people in Chamonix


On the 9th of February 1999, the Montroc village near Chamonix was partially destroyed by an avalanche which resulted in 12 deaths.

Exactly 20 years later, residents of the valley and families of lost ones have reunited to remember the victims of the Montroc tragedy.


Extreme Environments - memorial to the 12 people who died in the 1999 Montroc Avalanche, Chamonix Valley, France. By Richard Allaway, licensed under CC BY 2.0, found on https://www.flickr.com/
Avalanche Chamonix 09/02/1999, by Pierre Martin, licensed under CC BY 3.0, found on https://commons.wikimedia.org

9th of February 1999

On that dreadful day, the village of Montroc was struck by a massive avalanche, destroying 20 chalets and killing 12 people.

300,000 cubic meters of snow covered the chalets where 17 people resided at that moment. Unfortunately, only five of them lived to see another day.

"It could have been 50 people!", says Gilbert Delauney, whose son and niece were in one of the cottages. Three days later, the February holiday started and the village of Montrac would have been crammed with tourists.

The tragedy seems to make no sense, as all the occupants carefully followed the safety instructions. "Almost everyone thought they were safe", recalls Patrick Bourday, whose brother was lost in the avalanche.

9th of February 2019

"The sadness cannot be shared", says Jean-Claude Bourdais, president of the Association for information on the risks of urban avalanches and their prevention (Airap).

Mr Bourdais founded Airap in 2005, together with other parents of victims.

"So that it does not happen again", adds Jean-Claude Bourdais. On that fatidic day, he also lost a son. His 21-year-old son, Xavier, and his friend Fanny Cuvelier, 20, were trapped by the deadly casting.

The tragedy that happened twenty years ago remains a giants scar in the history of Chamonix valley and in the hearts of all families that lost a beloved one.

At the foot of the mountain, there is a massive cross bearing the names of the victims, aged 3 to 50 years.

It is there where the families of lost ones and residents of Chamonix have reunited this past Saturday to commemorate the twelve lives which were lost twenty years ago.

"These gatherings do not heal, but they allow to remember that an avalanche can kill even in a home," said Jean-Claude Bourdais.

"It is dangerous to forget"

In July 2003, the Mayor of Chamonix, Michel Charlet, was sentenced to three months of suspended prison time.

During the trial, it was discovered that the disaster was not so much a result of fatality and that it might have been prevented.

An account of a similar magnitude avalanche in Montroc in 1843 was found. Also, there was a report of a warning message regarding the risks to which the sector was exposed, sent by mountain guide, Armand Charlet, in the 1970s.

The Airap has come a long way since its beginnings, 14 years ago. After long and wearying battles with the state, protection plans and avalanche mapping have evolved, with concrete measures being implemented.

However, "Chamonix is an exception and sets an example today," says Jean-Claude Bourdais. Out of 106 "high avalanche risk" municipalities, only 30 have increased their plan of protection in case of avalanches.

Le dauphine