3 teachers handed prison terms for negligence over fatal avalanche

A court in Japan has handed prison terms for negligence to three men who were teachers accompanying a high school extracurricular activity when a fatal avalanche struck.

Seven students and a teacher died in the March 2017 accident and numerous other students were injured.

The District Court in Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, sentenced the three men to two years in prison on Thursday for professional negligence resulting in deaths and injuries. Two currently work as teachers and the other has retired.

The accident occurred during a training program for members of high school mountain climbing clubs on Mt. Chausu in the town of Nasu.

The defendants were either in charge of leading participants during training to walk through snow when they were hit by the avalanche, or organizing the program.

The point of contention during the trial was whether the three men were able to predict the possibility of an avalanche as of the morning of the day when they decided to go ahead with the snow-walking training.

Prosecutors insisted that the defendants all had enough knowledge and experience of winter mountain climbing to predict the likelihood of an avalanche. The prosecution sought a four-year prison term.

Lawyers for the defense asserted that it was impossible for the three men to predict an avalanche, and that they are not guilty. The lawyers said the defendants had done all they could to collect information necessary to ensure the safety of the training.