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 'An avalanche had buried all five of us in the kitchen. I thought it was the end for us all'

Elke Morgner, Eli Anne Ersdal and Malte Jochmann with Svala and Elida were completely buried inside the kitchen when the avalanche went on 19 December last year. FOTO: Christopher Engås

'An avalanche had buried all five of us in the kitchen. I thought it was the end for us all'

Eli Anne Ersdal, 35, and co-habitating couple Elke Morgner, 35, and Malte Jochmann, 38, suddenly found themselves buried in the snow. And their small children were gone.



10.01.2016 kl 13:20

Two-year-old Elida is now chatting and arranging items inside the family's new apartment at Vei 236. Mamma Elke is smiling while she cuddles her infant daughter, Svala, on the couch. Friends from Germany have traveled up to help the small family with all that needs to be taken care of after the avalanche.

It's hard to believe the family experienced the nightmare of a lifetime only three weeks ago.


Eli had just arrived on for a visit at Elke and Malte's house at Vei 230-16. Eli, who has worked for three years at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, was anxious that morning.

"There had been so much weather the night before," she says. "We talked about all the snow that had come and the winds we had heard in the night."


They were sitting in the kitchen. Elke nursed her little girl and Malte had risen to warm milk for the coffee when life was suddenly turned upside down.

"We think as little as possible
about how it could have gone"

In the next second, Ersdal and the family of four was in total darkness, under meters of heavy and dense snow.

"We think as little as possible about how it could have gone," Elke says now.

Malte was lucky to be standing on his feet when the avalanche hit. It may have saved their lives.

their own words

In a letter, the five narrate their experience during the incident:

"Saturday, Dec. 19, we will always remember.

"Three adults and two children sitting in our kitchen at 230-16 and looking at the outside world, which was covered with incredible amounts of snow after the storm the night before. Snow crews had just plowed Hilmar Rekstens Vei, all the way up to the pointed houses that were still covered with just over a meter of snow. Eli Anne had arrived at breakfast and we talked about the big drifts up the hillside towards Sukkertoppen. It was warm and cozy. I had gotten up to warm milk for the coffee, thought for a moment that a snowplow had come, but it was strange that it was throwing snow against our window. Wooosh.

I was thrown around and became absolutely stuck. A dream? Unreal.

The inconceivable had happened, an avalanche had buried all five of us in the kitchen. I thought it was the end for us all.

I was able to breathe and eventually realized that I was still standing upright. Although I had about half a meter of snow over me, I managed to move myself a little and thus gain some space eventually. The effort was endless and I eventually managed to get out of the snow.

The sight was disheartening. Dark, silent, cold, nobody to see and the kitchen was filled with snow all the way up to the ceiling on one side, somewhat less against the window. Outside there was only snow, no neighboring houses, no lights, not a soul. I thought I had lost all my loved ones.

"Elke heard Svala cry, but did not
have body contact, there was snow
between them. Hold on, little Svala!"

Suddenly I heard Elke shout in the snow. She was nursing our daughter when the avalanche hit. Little Svala was exactly eight weeks old that day. I dug with bare hands, found her head deep in the hole. She instructed me to find me something to dig with and luckily I found a wok lid was left up in the cabinet. Elke heard Svala cry, but did not have body contact, there was snow between them. Hold on, little Svala!

There was a gap between the kitchen door and doorframe since all the walls were crooked. I dug down and got myself through the opening into the hallway, dug out the kitchen door from the outside, and broke it out so I was able to get better access to the two and very carefully we dug out Svala in the darkness. I carried her to the living room which was still warm and left her in blankets in her playpen, and then I dug out Elke. We tried to find gloves and shoes, but the wardrobe was gone and we found only gloves that fitted Elke. We continued to dig after two-year-old Elida and Eli Anne. Unimaginable amounts of hard snow mixed with wood chips and debris filled the kitchen and there were still no other people to see. Hopeless despair. Calling for help through the window opening.

Elke tried to reassure Svala. Luckily, she found mittens that suited me and I found my headlamp. Continued to dig.

Se bildet større

The house the five found themselves in when landslide struck at noon on 19 December. FOTO: Christopher Engås

After a while a neighbor from the governor's office was standing outside the living room window. I shouted that we are missing two who are buried, we need help. If felt like an incredibly long time until they first arrived, but then came many skilled diggers, now it went faster! (I was asked if I wanted to take a break, because I was completely exhausted, wonderful people who asked.) We carried out the kitchen window which was intact even though it had sailed across the kitchen. The kitchen table was broken. Despite numerous and incredibly talented diggers, the hope of finding someone alive was vanishingly small, so much time had gone already!

"She had gotten an air pocket,
she was alive and awake!"

Suddenly Eli Anne screamed inside from the kitchen sink, she had been crushed against the front of a drawer and therefore ended up with her head inside the cabinet. She had gotten an air pocket, she was alive and awake! "Do not stop digging, we still are missing my daughter here somewhere," I cried in despair. Eli Anne went out of the house herself and was rushed by snowmobile to the hospital.

Right next to Eli Anne, also in the kitchen cabinet, lay Elida and when she was dug out she was also consciousness and looked me straight in the eyes! She had had more than two meters packed snow over her.

A doctor was present and quickly a kitchen cabinet door was found and used as a stretcher. She was taken to the hospital immediately. Elke and Svala was ushered out into a heated car, I searched for my mobile phone and wallet, found both and went out of the house. I was carried on the back side, there were nails everywhere and I only had socks on my feet. Downstairs a car was waiting which drove us to the hospital where Elida was already being examined. She was gradually warmed up and after a while she ate her first gingerbread. Eli Anne arrived, battered but alive.

It ended well for us that was in the kitchen at 230-16. It is a wonder and totally inconceivable that we all survived and that none of us suffered serious injuries, as far as we can see today. There are other incredibly sad stories in this accident and we weep with those who lost a loved one.

We want to tell this story for people who have contributed after the avalanche happened. There is such a small margin and you made a difference. If you were at the avalanche for digging, maintaining control, stood ready to help; if you were sitting in your office here or there to help; if you were in the hospital here or in Tromsø; if you threw yourself into the plane to come or stood ready to depart; if you looked after kids that your partner could help with; if you helped in any way, without you we had lost more in this accident, all efforts were worth it at all levels and it means so much to us today! Thank you very, very much!

Thank you for being here, thank you for being so good and thank you for coming to help!

After the avalanche we got clothes from good friends, many hugs and kind words, temporary sleeping space and a nice Christmas Eve with friends, offers of clothing, housing, assistance. UNIS and Store Norske managed to obtain new permanent housing already on Monday afternoon, Telenor spent two hours connecting us to the fiber-optic network, we borrowed a car from friends. The men's choir and Mine 7 workers joined in force to get things out of the house, many came with gifts, and the governor and the local government managed to find our passports in the snow. The city also organized arrangements for psychosocial support. There were many more who helped. We are incredibly grateful for it!"

Translated by Mark Sabbatini


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