Cold a Long Time: An Alpine Mystery

Fourteen years later, on July 18, 2003, Duncan's body reappeared on the same ski slope on which he'd last been seen alive on August 9, 1989. 

The photograph was taken on July 18, 2003, the day Duncan's body was found, during a period of unusually heavy summer melt. The arrow is pointing at the location of his body. The small crevasse in which he was buried is estimated to have moved about 40 meters down the hill during the 14 years he was in the ice. It is in a row of transverse crevasses that are moving uniformly down the hill near the glacier's equilibrium line, where ice flow is chiefly horizontal.

As Professor David Evans, co-author of Glaciers and Glaciation, pointed out, it is highly unusual for a body to melt out so far up on a glacier. This indicates that Duncan did not fall into a deep crevasse (in which case he would have emerged decades later at the bottom of the glacier) but went just deep enough to evade detection. This is consistent with the statement of Michael Tanzer, head of Stubai Glacier slope operations in 2003, who claimed that Duncan must have gone into a shallow, v-shaped crevasse, adjacent to the t-bar lift. But if that was indeed the case, why wasn't he found at the end of the day (Aug. 9, 1989) when he didn't return his equipment and pick up his possessions?

The above image of the discovery site was taken the following day. The Eisgrat station at the slope's base is approximately 500 meters away.

Above: Duncan lying slightly on his left side in the vestige of a shallow crevasse. Note the horizontal attitude of his body: Most victims of a crevasse fall end up wedged vertically in the ice. Duncan's destroyed left leg is still buried; his outstretched right leg is still completely clothed. The left arrow indicates his left ski boot, standing upright next to his left side. The right arrow is pointing downhill.

 The Alpine Special Investigator stated the location of the discovery site (Fundstelle) as follows.

Die Auffindungsstelle des Duncan MacPhersons befindet sich am Schaufelferner, auf einer Seehoehe von 2975 Metern, ca 35 Meter oestlich der Liftspur des Schleppliftes Eisjoch II im Berich der Piste Nr 1 "Schaufelschuss" (organisierter Schiraum).

The discovery site of Duncan MacPherson is located on the Schaufelferner at an altitude of 2975 meters above sea level, approximately 35 meters east of the T-bar lift Eisjoch II within the area of slope number 1 "Schaufelschuss" (organized ski area). 

The above photograph was taken on July 18, 2003. The black arrow indicates where Duncan's body was found, the red arrow marks the estimated location of where his body went into a crevasse (approximately 40 meters uphill and slightly to the west).

It is very important to understand that the area indicated by the red arrow was, in 1989, an active crevassing zone on the Schaufelferner. During the summer months, snow-bridges in this area often collapsed and the crevasses had to be filled with snow. Even if this danger area was technically marked out-of-bounds on August 9, 1989, this does NOT address the question: Why did no one (officially) look for Duncan at the end of the day when didn't return his gear and pick up his clothing, street shoes, and Saskatchewant driver's license? On the contrary, the crevassing hazard in the middle of the slope (whether marked or not) would have only added urgency to this question.

The above photograph was taken on July 22, 2003, four days after the Innsbruck public prosecutor closed the case and released the body for burial.  The red arrow indicates a piece of Duncan's blue sweatpants; the black arrow indicates materials for a new lift that was under construction at the time Duncan's body was found. 

 Duncan's body lying in the vestige of a shallow, transverse crevasse located near the Schaufelferner's equilibrium line.

1) Contrast the white-colored ice around the body with the dark ice just beyond it. The white-colored ice has just been excavated with ice-axes; the dark-colored ice is the BARE ice of the glacier. The bare ice of the glacier was NOT being groomed in July of 2003. On the contrary, a new lift was being constructed just a few meters from where the body was found. 

2). Duncan's pelvis, thorax, and skull were NOT fractured, indicating that they were NOT crushed by a grooming tractor.

3) The red arrow indicates Duncan's right leg--still fully clothed and entirely undamaged. The black arrow indicates his right sock (note the turquoise stripe).

4). His left leg and both forearms were chopped into pieces, and all of these pieces were found with the body. How did flowing glacier ice chop his left leg into pieces while leaving the right leg entirely intact?  As a prominent British glaciologist noted, "If his limbs were fractured by glacier sheer stress, the pieces would have been displaced laterally on either side of the sheer planes--you wouldn't find them piled up together in one place!

Above: Duncan's body viewed from upslope.

1.Red arrow indicates the tail of Duncan's snowboard, facing nose-down into the shallow crevasse. 

2.The black horizontal arrow indicates his right arm. The elbow has been disclocated and rotated 180 degrees and the forearm has been severed just below the elbow. The amputated forearm and amputated hand were both found with the body. 

3. The blue arrow indicates Duncan's yellow rain jacket, made of very strong material. Note that it has been shredded and bunched together in a manner not consistent with simple burial in a crevasse. Note also the tear pattern of the blue sweatshirt on his right upper arm--the location of the tear does not align with the destroyed elbow, indicating it was torn off and NOT fractured by ice flow. 

Body viewed from downslope.

1. Green arrow indicates Duncan's boxer shorts, completely ripped from body.

2. Red arrow indicates the top of his left ski boot. Note that it is completely undamaged, indicating that it was not run over by a grooming tractor. The liner is missing from the boot, but it was found with the body. The boot is filled with old snow, indicating that Duncan was NOT wearing it when the crevasse was filled.

3. The blue arrow indicates the tail of the snowboard.

4. The black, horizontal arrow indicates where the rain jacket has been cleanly cut with a sharp instrument and NOT randomly struck by an ice axe during excavation.