EVOLENE, Switzerland — A skier was buried beneath an avalanche for 17 hours in the Swiss Alps before being pulled from the snow with only mild hypothermia, police said Sunday.
The 21-year-old man appeared to have survived because he was trapped next to a pocket of air that allowed him to breathe even though he was unable to free himself from the crushing weight of the snow, police in the southern canton of Valais said.
"I've never heard of such a case before," said police spokesman Jean-Marie Bornet. "It's already very difficult to survive more than 45 minutes beneath an avalanche."
The man, who had been skiing alone on an unmarked slope in the Evolene region about 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Geneva, was reported missing by his family at 4.30 p.m. Saturday, police said.
Rescuers with sniffer dogs found ski tracks leading to where a large avalanche had come down but had to break off their search overnight for safety reasons.
On Sunday morning, a helicopter crew spotted movement on the surface and rescuers were able to pull the man out from beneath 20 inches (half a meter) of snow, said Bornet.
The unidentified Swiss skier has been hospitalized but appears to have suffered no serious injuries, Bornet said.
"He's a very lucky man," he said.
Dozens of skiers are killed by avalanches in the Swiss Alps each year. Last month, a series of avalanches killed six people in central Switzerland, the country's worst such disaster in more than a decade.