Russian Expedition Director Gets 4 Years in Prison for Negligence that Led to 9 Deaths

A Russian court sentenced Andrey Stepanov, Director of the Novosibirsk-based Extreme Time adventure agency, to four years in prison for his role in a 2022 expedition that resulted in 9 deaths on Klychevskaya Volcano. The court found him guilty of providing expedition services that did not adhere to standardized safety requirements.

Klychevskaya Volcano (4,754m) is one of the most active volcanoes in Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. It is also the highest active volcano in Eurasia, and one of the highest volcanoes in the world. Today, this volcano is an extremely popular hiking and non-technical mountaineering destination, regularly receiving traffic from around the world.

Climbing the volcano requires a visa for foreigners and a permit since it borders an army zone. The area is known to experience inclement weather between autumn and early spring. But the most challenging part of the peak is near the summit, due to volcanic gasses, a rapid change in temperature, and loose rock. 

Last year, despite failing to acquire permits for Klychevskaya Volcano, Stepanov organized a tour that brought ten climbers and two guides to the volcano in September for the cost of about a million rubles (roughly $11,100 USD) total. Clients in the group ranged in age from 28 to 38, and included two women and eight men. 

Prosecutors alleged that Stepanov hired two inexperienced guides to lead the team of climbers to the summit of the volcano, and that it was Stepanov’s negligence that resulted in nine deaths near the summit. 

During the last leg of the summit push, four clients fell (possibly five, reports vary), which resulted in their immediate deaths. It was at this time that Mischenko, one of the guides, broke his leg. Details surrounding the incident are still unclear. 

After the fall, an additional four climbers and Mischenko were left stranded above 4,000 meters when snow, a strong wind, and ash from the volcano prevented a helicopter from landing near the climbers. Rescuers encouraged the remaining climbers to descend as far as they could to fend off hypothermia. Summit temperatures were as low as 7°F.  

The second guide, Ivan Alabugin, left the group earlier in the day to accompany two climbers that weren’t feeling well to a lower elevation before returning to the scene of the accident. Despite Alabugin’s attempts to move the remaining climbers down the mountain, the group remained stuck on the volcano for three days, resulting in the deaths of Mischenko and all four climbing clients. 

After Mischenko’s death, Alabugin retreated to the lower camp to meet the last surviving climbers. Alabugin and the two remaining climbers survived the incident after a helicopter was dispatched to 3,300 meters where they’d hunkered down in a cave at the Pass of Volcanologists. The survivors had plenty of provisions and fuel when a team of rescuers arrived and airlifted them to the nearby town of Klyuchi. Alabugin suffered from frostbite on his hands and feet, the remaining clients escaped relatively unharmed. 

After the incident, the prosecutor’s office of Kamchatka opened up an investigation surrounding the events that led up to the tragedy. Ultimately, the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky court determined that Stepanov failed to adhere to the safety rules involved with climbing in Russia, particularly by hiring two guides who didn’t have the experience or credentials to lead such a technical route, leading to negligence that resulted in the deaths of more than two people. In addition to serving a four year prison sentence, Stepanov must pay victim compensation that amounts to a total of 11.5 million rubles ($127,530 USD). 

In the wake of Stepanov’s sentencing, it’s possible that the incident could determine how tour operators and guides could be sentenced in the future for climbing negligence, setting the tone for future summit tragedies.

The post Russian Expedition Director Gets 4 Years in Prison for Negligence that Led to 9 Deaths appeared first on Climbing.

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