Human remains discovered in melted glaciers in Switzerland

Illustration/ Photo EPA

Rising temperatures are forcing Switzerland's melting glaciers to reveal their secrets, with hikers this summer hoping for two sets of unidentified human remains and plane wreckage lost for more than half a century, The Guardian reports.

Two French mountaineers last week they found human bones while climbing the Chésjen Glacier in the southern canton of Valais, a police spokesman confirmed on Monday. The same day, the skeleton was transferred from the glacier by helicopter.

The bones were discovered near an old trail that was last used about 10 years ago, said Dario Andenmatten, warden of the Britannia mountain hut where many climbers start their ascents in the region. The two climbers probably made their discovery only because they were climbing on an old map.

With little left of the body but bare bones, Andenmatten said he expected the person to have died "sometime in the 1970s or 80s."

A week earlier, another body was found on the Stockjie glacier near the resort of Zermatt, northwest of the Matterhorn. In both cases, police said the process of identifying human remains through DNA analysis was still ongoing and would take "a few more days."

Police in the Alpine region maintain a list of about 300 cases of missing people since 1925. It also includes millionaire Karl-Erivan Haub – a German, Russian and American citizen who disappeared in the Zermatt region while training for a ski tour on April 7, 2018. German media linked the body discovered on the Stokji glacier to Haub, who was declared legally dead in 2021.

However, one of the two hikers who discovered the body told the Blik newspaper that the clothes they found were neon-colored, "in the style of the 80s." The body was mummified and slightly damaged, said Luke Lecanoin, 55.

In the first week of August, a mountain guide discovered the wreckage of a plane that crashed over the Aletsch Glacier, near the Jungfrau and Mench mountain peaks, in June 1968.

"From a distance, I thought I was looking at two backpacks," said Dominique Nehlen, 38. Closer inspection revealed the objects to be the remains of a Piper Cherokee plane that crashed in the area on June 30, 1968, carrying a teacher, a doctor and his son, all from Zurich. The bodies were recovered at the time, but the remains were not.

After a winter with relatively little snowfall, the Swiss Alps have already experienced two intense summer heatwaves. In July, authorities advised climbers not to climb the Matterhorn due to unusually high temperatures, which reached nearly 30 degrees Celsius in Zermatt.

During the July heat wave, the height of the frozen water was measured at a record high of 5.184 meters, compared to the normal summer level of 3.000-3.500 meters.

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