PARIS — A schoolteacher who went with students onto a closed French Alps ski slope before an avalanche struck there and killed three people — two of whom were students he was in charge of — faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, a prosecutor announced Thursday.
The physical education teacher accompanied a group of students from the St.-Exupery school in Lyon to a part of Les Deux Alpes ski resort that has been closed off since the start of the ski season — at first due to lack of snow, then due to a high avalanche risk — Grenoble prosecutor Jean-Yves Coquillat said.
Many signs and a safety net had been put up to keep people off the course. Yet the students and their teacher went over that net, said Coquillat, who noted that backcountry or off-piste skiing itself is not a crime.
The teacher was among those caught up in Wednesday’s avalanche, and was still in the hospital a day later with non-life-threatening injuries.
A 16-year-old girl was found dead on the closed ski slope, while a 14-year-old boy died after being transferred to a hospital. Another person outside the student group — a Ukrainian skier, who appeared to be alone — also died.
The very steep, expert-level slope where they were killed sat about 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) above sea level, Gilles Strappazzon, an official in the regional Isère government, told CNN affiliate BFMTV.
It also was in an area that was under a Level 3 (of a five-level scale) avalanche risk, meaning there was an above-average possibility of ruptures at high altitudes. This danger was compounded by the fact some 33 centimeters (13 inches) of fresh snow had fallen that day, a notable amount following a relatively dry and mild December.