Svalbardposten.no reported the story of Anne Kristin Jakobsen a few hours after the fatal avalanche buried 11 homes on Vei 230 in December. She was laying in the hospital at the time. She has not wanted to talk to the media until now.
December.19. The time was just past ten on that Saturday morning when the couple stood in the kitchen. Jan Olav Sæter, 44, had put on the coffee, while Anne Kristin, 45, was preparing breakfast. The night before it had snowed and the winds had blown hard, and up on the hillside they could see huge snowdrifts had built up. They talked about it while they looked up through the window.
"I said to Jan Olav that this cannot possibly be good," Anne Kristin said.
Jan Olav spoke with Frank Jakobsen to learn about the snow situation in Longyearbyen at 10:13 a.m.. They talked for slightly more than four minutes, then Jan Olav went into the living room.
Meanwhile, their son, Jorgen, 11, shouted good morning from the upstairs loft. He wanted scrambled eggs for breakfast and Anne Kristin started making some.
'Jolt' in the house
Then it happened:
"I had just started on the scrambled eggs and was standing to the left side of the window, barefoot and in a bathrobe," Anne Kristin said. "Then I knew that there began to be a trembling in the floor. I looked down and thought 'wow.' And then, in a fraction of a second, I perceived something white in the corner of my eye. It was just as though my brain had realized it, because I had seen the snowdrift."
She received a hard blow in the left shoulder and the kitchen was filled with snow. Then she was gone. The snow brought with it the window and kitchen wall, and continued into the living room.
"Whether you die, or
everything will be okay"
On the sofa, Jan Olav was sitting and looking out the window when he suddenly felt a sharp jolt in the house.
"'Now comes the mountain. A slab avalanche,' I thought," Jan Olav said. He knew the house was being swamped and thought of Anne in the kitchen.
"I was convinced that now it was over," he said. "Here it was just me sitting perfectly still. Whether you die, or everything will be okay. The floor slammed up and I was thrown into the corner. Then it was pitch black."
The blue arrow shows where Jan Olav found himself when the avalanche came. FOTO: Jan Olav Sæter
The living room was demolished, the floor was pushed up to 45 degrees at the ceiling and there was an inferno of snow, materials and sharp edges. Two cars ended up inside the house. The only place not packed with snow, debris and dangerous objects was the corner in the living room.
He heard the crying of Jørgen on the second floor and managed to get out of the living room.
Half a meter above her head
Inside the kitchen, on broken crockery and jammed against the dishwasher and kitchen sink, Anne Kristin regained awareness.
View through kitchen window. The snow has torn the kitchen wall and continued into the living room. FOTO: Jan Olav Sæter
Over her was a half meter of pack snow and a sharp edge was cutting into her thigh. Her right arm was in a position over her head, which made it possible to dig. She was aware that she had little time.
"How much air do I have?"
"I knew that the first 15 minutes were critical. How much air do I have? I felt panic and began shouting. Then my thoughts fell on Jørgen. Oh my God!"
The kitchen was completely filled with tons of avalanche snow and there was little more than half a meter of space up to the ceiling.
"I think that I found myself in that situation," she said. "One says that life passes by in review, but I made myself think about the status of things. Atle (Husby) had the bedroom next door to our kitchen and I thought that maybe he had heard, so I began to shout. It alternated between panic and calm."
The house of the Sæter/Jakobsen family had moved 50 to 60 meters down from its foundation. The neighboring house was partially crushed.
Outside, Jan Olav see could a snowmobile sled and storage container in front of the balcony.
The living room is completely shattered. Jan Olav climbed out through the window at the bottom left. FOTO: Jan Olav Sæter
"I shouted 'Jørgen, Dad is coming! It will be OK!.' I stood on the case and got up on the balcony and got myself into his room," Jan Olav said.
The 11-year-old was in shock and they searched for some clothes to wear before they climbed out. When he looked down he suspected the worst.
"I went down the stairs and shouted where the kitchen was. There were such large drifts that no one could have survived, and so for me that meant Anne was dead. We had to get out. I called '110' and raised the alarm."
The log shows that the emergency call was taken at 10:26 a.m..
"I believe that the avalanche went exactly at 10:20," said Sæter, who borrowed shoes and a few clothes before they were brought out by Helle and Bent Jakobsen, cousins of Anne. There was nothing Sæter could do, other than to protect his son.
"It was only a little while, then the phone rang," he said. "It was Svenn Are Johansen told that they were outside the house. I told that Anne is in the kitchen."
'She is breathing!'
Down in the snow, the pain of the cold was unbearable. Having dug around a little, Anne Kristin faced something familiar – a hard surface above her head and to the left. It was the door of the microwave, and she struck it again and again until she was bleeding in the hope that someone would hear the sound. It was the only thing she could do.
"I thought 'Oh my God, this was how I was going to die, '"she said.
When she stopped banging on the door, it was quiet.
She continued to pound.
Some time after – how long she does not know – she heard a sound. Then it disappeared.
"It was a while again and then it sounded as if someone passed over my head. I shouted. Eventually I realized that it was the sound of shovels."
In the meantime, her boyfriend's cell phone rang: "Jan Olav, we have signs of life!" Then there was a pause. A short time later the phone rang again: "She is breathing!"
"And suddenly I could see light. It was like being born again!" Anne Kristin said.
A total of 38 minutes had passed.
"Oh my God. They were angels"
Suddenly she saw Trond-Viggo Jensen.
"I am here, Anne," he cried.
"Me too, Svenn Are Johansen and Anders Ringheim shouted."
"Oh my God. They were angels," Anne Kristin said, adding "They asked if I could walk. I could have done so if needed. The adrenaline was so high."
Anne Kristin was buried under one and a half meters deep snow for 38 minutes. FOTO: Jan Olav Sæter
Outside hundreds of lights were shining and everything was chaos. She understood nothing about what had happened. An ambulance drove her to the hospital, where her body temperature was measured at 34 degrees Celsius – three degrees below normal.
January 11. Anne Kristin is serving coffee in the living room of an apartment at Elvesletta. They have lived here since last Tuesday. Most of what they own has been shattered and destroyed, and all their furniture and accessories must be replaced. That is unimportant, they said.
"We've been back in the house," Ann Kristin said. "The first time I just wanted out. But I've been there on a second trip, and then you just look around and marvel about it. Thinking that this was our home, it was our life. And one becomes even more humble that one has survived."
"It is only a thing," Jan Olav said. "You get a different perspective about it. There are so many coincidences that allowed us both to be sitting here. You see how small the margins are."
There have been several avalanches on Sukkertoppen. In 2003 or 2004, three children were caught in a slab avalanche. It was only a small avalanche and the children fared well, although there was snow above and beneath them, and their skis and pole disappeared.
The couple has lived in the pointed house since 1998, but never feared avalanches. But they said they have steered away from the steep part when they went skiing.
There will now likely be an investigation of the incident.
"One is left with mixed feelings," she said. "One is pleased that we rescued ourselves, but at the same time it is so sad that two were killed."
For accommodation their first night, the family borrowed an apartment at Gruvedalen. During the celebration of Christmas, the two oldest children came up.
"Adrenaline hurtling through your
body as you step from the darkest
dark to the brightest bright"
They family is grateful for everything. Going down to the mainland, if only for a period, has not been an option.
"This is an impressive apparatus," Jan Olav said. "The whole community has been involved in a phenomenal way.".
"This is our island. I am proud to be from this city," Anne Kristin added.
Jan Olav and Anne Kristin in their new livingroom. FOTO: Eirik Palm
It was a coincidence the door of the dishwasher and the cabinet door in the kitchen were open when the snow came in. As a result, Anne Kristin was left with an air pocket of half a cubic meter. That may have helped to save her.
"The only thing you think about is survival," she said. "The instinct is so incredibly strong. And the feeling when you realize that you're not going to die in any event. Adrenaline hurtling through your body as you step from the darkest dark to the brightest bright."
Translated by Mark Sabbatini