March 30, 2017 – A school official responsible for an ill-fated mountaineering lesson at a ski resort in eastern Japan admitted to a lapse in judgment in going ahead with the exercise that led to the deaths of seven students and a teacher in an avalanche.
“At the time we judged that it was absolutely safe, but now that this kind of incident occurred, it is something I must really regret,” Shuichi Inose, adviser to the mountaineering club at Otawara High School, said at the first press conference to be held following Monday’s disaster.
An avalanche that occurred on the mountain near the ski resort in the town of Nasu, Tochigi Prefecture, on Monday morning killed the boys and their teacher, members of the school’s competitive mountaineering club. The students were undergoing training to learn how to walk through deep snow at the time of the avalanche.
Inose, the point man for mountaineering training sponsored by the prefectural high school athletic federation, said that while a plan to go mountain climbing was canceled due to the bad weather, he and two other teachers judged that it was possible to still conduct the alpine training.
He said it was not windy and that snow was not falling heavily in the morning.
Inose, a senior official of the federation’s mountain climbing division, said they felt that there would be “no problem” so long as the areas where they believed avalanches are likely to occur were avoided.
Inose, who was not anywhere near the accident site with the students, said that he was aware from the previous day of the risk of an avalanche. Meanwhile, the two teachers with whom he consulted were at the site.
The accident, one of the deadliest avalanche disasters in decades in Japan, occurred after a slide advisory had been issued around the area.
The victims were hit by the avalanche at around 8:30 a.m. But Inose said an emergency call was not made until around 9:20 a.m., since no one from the site alerted him of the incident.
He admitted not carrying an emergency radio for 10 minutes around 9 a.m.
As to why the students did not have beacons that emit radio signals to locate people buried in snow, he said that the equipment is needed only when the risk of an avalanche is high.
At the same press conference held at the prefectural government office, Yoichi Ueki, the high school’s principal, expressed his deep remorse over the tragedy.
A total of 51 students and 11 teachers from seven high schools were taking part in the three-day training program. But the avalanche-struck exercise was participated in by on 46 students and nine teachers as five other students were unable to join due to a lack of proper equipment.