1994 accident of Tomaž Planina in the couloir of Mt. Jalovec

On June 25, 1994, Tomaž Planina (head of the group), Breda Jančar, Marko Vogrič and my humble self set off from Tamar valley towards Mt. Jalovec (elevation 2645 m), where we intended to climb to the top. We drove to Tamar, left the car at the hut (elevation 1108 m) and headed, a little late (around 9 am), towards the couloir. That we were late became clear when we started to ascend the snow foot, it must have been close to half past ten, and stones started flying out of the couloir. We walked one after the other, 10 to 15 meters apart, for better safety and watched the rocks rolling across the snowfield. Suddenly we noticed a larger rock flake jumping, bouncing across the snowfield towards us. At first, it didn’t seem to be a threat as it was moving rather slowly, because of its mass. Marko estimated that it weighed about 100 kilos, while I would say a little less, and among other falling stones, it stood out very much because of size.

Tomaž had to be inattentive for a moment, because he suddenly shouted: “I’we got it!” He lifted his right leg, which swung in an abnormal position, not around knee, but below it, in the middle of his shin. Marko, who was closest to Tomaž, later said that the flake just barely touched him. Nevertheless, the rock with its energy could be fatal for Tomaž if it would hit him somewhere else, e.g. in the abdomen. In the whole situation, the most inconvenient thing was that the smaller rocks were still crumbling off the wall and sliding across the snowfield. We put Tomaž on a windbreaker, immobilized his injured leg next to his healthy one, and with a rope around his shoulders, Mare and I lowered him down the snowfield, about 50 meters below. When we got to the end of the snowfield we found a large overhanging rock that was overgrown with creeping pine. Here we arranged a small shelter for Tomaž, out of danger from falling rocks, as comfortable and safe a bed as possible, and Breda went to the valley for help – there were no mobile phones at the time. When she returned, she said that we would have to wait for a few more hours because the helicopter was on its way to Murska Sobota (270 km by car, a little less by air), where it was carrying the Slovenian president. In the current situation, only this (police) helicopter was available.

After several hours of waiting, Tomaž was already in severe pain, a helicopter with doctor Iztok Tomazin flew in, he descended from a height of about 15 meters with a steel cable and a stretcher down to us. Dr. Tomazin was one of the main air rescuers at the time, later he also obtained a master’s degree and perhaps a PhD in this area. He was a general practitioner in Jesenice and we knew each other from there. Being an MD myself I worked at the Jesenice hospital several times, for a few months. The helicopter took Tomaž, but unfortunately not to Jesenice, as we expected, but only to the hut in Tamar. When we got to the hut, an ambulance car was waiting there, and the rescuers took Tomaž to Jesenice, but not immediately – after taking their time for a lunch of goulash. In Jesenice Tomaž underwent urgent surgery, due to the nature of the injury, soft tissue damage and swelling, he received an external fixator, which enabled stabilization of the fracture in a good position, while the soft tissues of the leg were not further affected by the procedure.

After about two weeks of hospitalization, or perhaps even earlier, when the wound had partially calmed down, Tomaž was transferred to a trauma clinic in Ljubljana. Fortunately, the treatment went pretty well, with no inflammation and the fracture healed in eight weeks. Contrary to expectations – I was afraid of psychological complications, Tomaž was a lover of good wine – he was always in a good mood and charmed all the female staff, from nurses to physiotherapists. His treatment continued with physical therapy and for a few months he walked with crutches. However, an unwelcome complication began to appear – contractures of the toes on the injured foot, or more simply, contraction of tendons and muscles. The toes began to bend towards the foot and blisters began to appear first, followed by real bedsores, open wounds on the tips of the toes. Tomaž had several surgeries, from the release of the tendons to the amputation of the final joints, so that he could walk normally again – on the way to new victories. We acted as needed, as the problems arose, through several years of Tomaž’s very sporty life. All in all, it left Tomaž with permanent problems, which he endured very calmly.

The accident changed Tomaž’s life considerably, after about a year of sick leave he decided not to continue his career, but to retire. He jokingly added that he had become too accustomed to the way of life he had had in the last year and that he had no intention to change that.

Anton Praprotnik – Toto, after consultation with Marko Vogrič, in January 2021.