The Castor tragedy of July 20, 1970
July 20, 1970
The serious disaster yesterday morning near the summit
Three mountaineers die on Castor by plunging six hundred meters.
A roped party that was climbing Pollux witnessed the tragedy – The bodies, which ended up on the Piccolo di Verra glacier, will be recovered this morning by a rescue expedition that left Champoluc yesterday evening – The identity of the victims is not yet known, but they are probably Italians.
From our correspondent.
Champoluc, Monday morning.
Another major disaster in the mountains. Three mountaineers, whose identities are not yet known but who are presumed to be Italian, died yesterday morning, plummeting down the southwest face of the Castor: a tragic flight of more than six hundred meters, ending on the Piccolo di Verra glacier. The bodies will be recovered this morning by an expedition of Champoluc guides led by Oliviero Frachey, who is the head of the Ayas Valley Mountain Rescue Service. The operation is being carried out with the traditional system: the Linate Air Rescue helicopter, in fact, could not land near the area of the disaster given the roughness and slope of the terrain. However, the pilot and guide Frachey were able to realize that unfortunately for the three unfortunate mountaineers there was nothing more to be done. ” They are still roped together,” Frachey said, “Two are very close, the other is a few meters away.
Witnesses to the tragedy were some mountaineers who were tackling the challenging rocky crags of Pollux, which is part of the so-called Gemini group, yesterday morning around 9 a.m. in beautiful weather. Castor reaches an altitude of 4230, Pollux is 4097 meters high. Both are at the head of the Ayas and Gressoney valleys, between the Breithorn and Monte Rosa, of which they are an ideal continuation. In a decade or so they have claimed about 15 victims, although they do not present extreme difficulties. The airy and easy Castor ridge, for example, is a destination every summer for numerous roped parties starting from the nearby ” Quintino Sella ” huts (3585 meters) or the Mezzalama refuge (3000 meters). Mountaineers who were climbing Pollux distinctly saw the three men plummet into the abyss when they were descending and were about fifty meters from the summit.
Raising the alarm in Champoluc shortly after noon was Turin mountaineer Gianfranco Origlia, inspector of the Mezzalama Refuge, who with his wife Maria was on a trip to the upper Pian di Verra. ” A roped party was coming down from Mezzalama,” he said, “who told me about the accident. I immediately ran down to the valley to warn Frachey. At “Mezzalama” there is a field phone, but the batteries are dead. Also, on the guide there is the number but Sip-Stipel has not yet made the connection.” At 2:30 p.m. the Linate Air Rescue helicopter landed and, taking Guido Frachey, Marco Gagliard and Giuseppe Dondeynaz on board, flew to the Verra glacier and carried out an initial reconnaissance, with which the bodies could be located. Several unsuccessful attempts to deposit the guides followed. It was decided, therefore, for traditional recovery.
At 5 p.m. yesterday afternoon about 10 men left Champoluc, including the guides Frachey, Gagliard and Dondeynaz themselves. The others are Giorgio and Luciano Colli, Ernesto Frachey, Alberto and Alfredo Favre. Having spent the night at ” Mezzalama,” the expedition began its grim task at dawn. About the identity of the vìttime is still unknown. ” Certainly they are three Italians who left from the “Quintino Sella,” ” they say in Champoluc. But even with the “Quintino Sella” there is no communication because there is no telephone. So far, no one has turned up to ask about family members in the mountains. The sad mystery, therefore, can only be clarified this morning when the bodies arrive in Champoluc.
July 21, 1970
Two of the victims are from Turin: a priest and a clerk
Recovered the three bodies of the mountaineers who fell from Castor in the Rosa range
The mishap occurred on Sunday morning – The climbers were accompanied by guide Remo Passera, who tried in vain to avoid the misfortune, also plunging into the abyss – Bad weather took seventeen hours to bring the three bodies down to the valley
(Our special report) Champoluc, July 20.
Champoluc guides, assisted by volunteers and the resort’s finance guards, in the morning transported to the valley the bodies of the three mountaineers who crashed yesterday morning, after a flight of more than 600 meters, on the Verrà glacier while descending the Castor, a peak that rises to 4230 meters in the Monte Rosa range. The operation was arduous and hindered by bad weather: in fact, at the base of the mountain it was drizzling and higher up sparse snow flocs were falling. Unfortunately, rumors that among the victims was the well-known guide from Gressoney, Remo Passera, were confirmed when the patrol of top men headed by Oliviero Frachey, head of the Ayas Valley Mountain Rescue Service, arrived at 3:30 this morning at the scene of the tragedy. The other two mountaineers who died are Salesian priest Fr. Michele Bechis, age 40, formerly deputy pastor of St. Rita in Turin and now pastor of Santo Natale, a new parish in Turin, and Giovanni Marchesino Comoglio, age 35, a clerk at the Cassa di Risparmio tax collector’s office in Venaria, married and father of two young girls.
Guide Remo Passera was born in Vigevano and was 44 years old. For more than 15 he had settled in Gressoney la Trinité. Secretary of the local guides society and owner of the Sport hotel, he was married to Ivonne Busca: he was the father of an 11-year-old girl, Viviana. Bearer since 1957, guide since 1963, he had to his credit multiple challenging climbs especially in the Rosa massif. In 1968, he had been awarded the Order of the Thistle for rescuing two mountaineers who had been crossed for three days on the Signal ridge. An avid filmmaker, he had received numerous awards for mountain documentaries. Last year Remo Passera had been seriously injured in a traffic accident in which guide Bruno Welf died. On March 18, in the Sassolungo valley in Selva di Val Gardena; he had escaped the avalanche that swept away Toni Gobbi and three other members of the group taking part in the “haute route” of the Pale Mountains on the first outing of the spring ski-mountaineering weeks.
According to Oliviero Frachey, the disaster was due to a tragic fatality: ” Impossible to think,” he told us, ” that Passera did not implement all the necessary precautions while descending from Castor. After all, other famous guides and mountaineers have also lost their lives in the Alps as a result of trivial accidents on mountains that are not excessively difficult, such as Castor, which is an airy and easy ridge that is the destination every summer of numerous roped parties starting from the Mezzalama refuge or the nearby Quintino Sella hut.
Passera, with his two companions who had climbed expressly on Saturday from Turin to Champoluc to climb the Castor and make the traverse to Plateau Rosa and then descend via Cervinia, had precisely met at the Sella on their way up from Gressoney. Witnesses to the disaster, which occurred around 9 a.m. Sunday, were some mountaineers from Biella who were climbing nearby Pollux. They stated that they saw one of the three slip and plummet toward the abyss. The other two tried to hold back the ” flight ” but were in turn dragged more than 600 meters going to smash on the glacier below the Piccolo Verrà. The alarm could only be given around noon. In fact, at the Mezzalama hut the telephone did not work because the batteries were dead. The intervention of a helicopter from Linate Air Rescue was requested, but it could not land near the disaster due to the roughness and slope of the terrain. However, it could be ascertained that there was nothing more to be done for the three mountaineers. In the late afternoon rescue expeditions reached the Mezzalama hut and began the pitiful work of recovery, which ended as we said this morning at about ten o’clock: a total of 17 hours and about 20 men employed.
Family members of the victims arrived in Champoluc in the early hours of this afternoon. Guide Passera’s brothers-in-law, the brothers-in-law and father-in-law of employee Comoglio, and Don Bechis’ sister and brother-in-law. The bodies, enclosed in special bags, were covered with bouquets of flowers placed by the many Champoluc vacationers who were shaken by this mountain tragedy. In the evening the bodies were transferred to Gressoney and Turin. Waiting in Gressoney was Ivonne Busca Passera who threw herself on her husband’s coffin crying. Another widow meanwhile, Mrs. Comoglio, was traveling to Venaria: news of her husband’s death had reached her in Loano, where she was vacationing with her two little girls.