Testimony. “I saw a black glove sticking out of the snow”: 50 years after the avalanche at the Col de Pailhères, in Ariège, the survivors do not forget

Testimony. “I saw a black glove sticking out of the snow”: 50 years after the avalanche at the Col de Pailhères, in Ariège, the survivors do not forget
Testimony. “I saw a black glove sticking out of the snow”: 50 years after the avalanche at the Col de Pailhères, in Ariège, the survivors do not forget

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On May 7, 1974, at the Col de Pailhères, an avalanche swept away 17 gendarmes from the Savignac-les-Ormeaux mountain gendarmerie platoon, costing the lives of three of them. Fifty years later, the survivors have forgotten nothing. Gathered for a remembrance ceremony, they bear witness.

On May 7, 1974, on the D25 road to the Col de Pailhères, an avalanche fell on seventeen gendarmes from the mountain gendarmerie platoon (PGM) of Savignac-les-Ormeaux, covering ten of them. Three lost their lives: Philippe Lesauvage, Gilbert Peyraud and Luc Bordenave. 50 years later to the day, in rainy weather mixed with a few snowflakes, survivors and former members of the PGM found themselves at the site of this tragedy, the memory of which they cannot erase from their memory.

The ceremony was attended by several dozen people. “The duty to remember is important, we must never forget,” says Colonel Frédéric Wagner, commander of the Ariège gendarmerie group. For us gendarmes, these commemorations allow us to reflect on the meaning of our missions, on all that that the elders gave us and to be able to better envisage the future.

A ceremony which is close to the heart and which required a long work of preparation for Daniel Clauzier, one of the survivors of the tragedy: “I prepared this tribute with the help of Colonel Wagner, the commander of the PGHM of Savignac and the elders of the PGM. I speak on behalf of all. The mission was not easy, but the majority of the unit’s members at the time were reunited.

Ceremony in front of La Stele, tribute to the three victims of May 7, 1974.
DDM – Annie Clauzier

“I thought it was the end”

A former auxiliary mountain policeman from Savignac-les-Ormeaux testifies to the tragedy he experienced. “We went for mountain training at the Col de Pailhères,” he remembers. “We found ourselves in front of a wall of snow 3 meters high. At one point, the snow reached up to my calves . I stayed for about an hour and a half completely buried. I had time to think about my whole life, about all the people who will miss us. I was engaged, I was going to get married two months later. .I thought it was the end.”

All those who had escaped the avalanche then mobilized to rescue their comrades. Roger Kompanitchlko, gendarme at the time of the incident, was part of the group that was on the road: “I turned around and saw that the road was covered in snow. We ran to alert,” he reports.

That day, Robert, now 90 years old, was a volunteer firefighter in Ax-les-Thermes and on standby to respond to any alert with another group. The call remains a bad memory for him: “It’s always difficult. But the most complicated thing is what happens next, when you have these three boys in the morgue, on tables. The image is always present. We say to ourselves that that very morning, these three young people were in great shape, they were facing life and in a few seconds, it was over. But there were also good moments in my experience as a firefighter,” he relates, with a tight throat.

Icy weather

Daniel Clauzier and his colleagues had set out to climb the Tarbésou peak, but bad weather made them change route. “We decided to take the road and we heard a crunch behind us,” he remembers. “There were five of us alone compared to twelve at the start. I remember seeing a black glove sticking out of the snow. was the glove of one of our leaders. We dug in and tried to get it out with our hands. Three men died in the snow despite the intervention of their colleagues.

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Also alerted, a helicopter takes off from Tarbes. “The weather was so bad that I only heard it, but never saw it,” testifies Daniel Clauzier. An avalanche dog was also present: Bingo, who lived up to his name since he managed to detect Jean-François Croses, who remained under the snow for three hours. “For the anecdote, he had a puppy that was given to me and to which I also gave the first name Bingo, says Jean-François. The dog even made the front page of the newspaper, Le Parisien!”

50 years later, the memory has not faded, but finding themselves allowed the survivors to lighten the weight.

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