Bad Reichenhall is a small town in the lovely Bavarian Alps, a popular winter sports area close to the Austrian border. New Year 2006 began with normal, seasonal weather – heavy snow. On the afternoon of Monday January 2, as families on their Christmas holidays were skating on the town’s indoor rink, the snow-covered roof collapsed, burying more than 50 people.
Several hundred firefighters were joined by specialist rescue teams from Austria and Germany and dogs trained to locate earthquake victims. Hopes faded as night fell and temperatures plummeted for, although a little girl had been rescued after five hours, hypothermia threatened those still trapped. Using heavy lifting gear, the rescuers worked on despite continuing snow, while firemen, their weight taken by supporting cranes, shoveled snow off the roof. In a two-day operation all the missing were rescued or retrieved.
The shocked community was assured that the usual checks of snow depth on the roof had been made and the accumulation was well within safety limits. The cancellation of ice hockey practice, scheduled for later that day, was queried. Spokesmen for the rink answered that this precautionary measure had been taken because further heavy snow was forecast, and the roof was not due to be cleared until the next day. The grief of the townspeople was mixed with anger. Many claimed that the whole building, which dated from 1971, was in urgent need of a thorough overhaul. Although the official explanation was that the renovations discussed the previous summer were of a cosmetic rather than structural nature, families and friends still blamed the loss of their loved ones on those involved in the construction and management of the ice rink.
When: January 2 2006
Where: Bad Reichenhall, Bavaria, Germany
Death toll: 15 died, including eight children; 32 were injured.
You should know: The former head of the local building office, together with an engineer and an architect who had both been involved in the building of the rink, were brought to trial in 2008 on various charges of negligence. The engineer was given a suspended prison sentence after he admitted his failure to calculate how much weight the roof could bear and the use of an unsuitable kind of beam in the construction. His co-defendants were acquitted.