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French Alps avalanche: Climbers killed near Chamonix

Nine climbers have been killed in an avalanche near the French Alpine ski resort of Chamonix and four others are missing, officials say. Those killed were reported to be from Spain, Germany, Switzerland and the UK. Nine other climbers were injured. Local authorities deployed rescue teams in helicopters and said it was the deadliest avalanche in recent memory.

The alarm was sounded at 05:25 local time (03:25 GMT) by one of the injured on the slopes of Mont Maudit. The route is popular with summer tourists heading for the summit of Mont Blanc.

In all, 28 climbers were roped together in several groups on Thursday morning. They are believed to have reached 4,000m (13,120 ft) when the avalanche struck.

A spokeswoman at the Haute-Savoie prefecture told the BBC that six bodies had been found.

Hours later, rescuers found the bodies of three more victims, believed to be Britons. Four more climbers – said to be two UK nationals and two Spaniards – are still missing.

Chamonix mayor Hean-Louis Verdier told Reuters news agency the avalanche was completely unexpected.

“We had no more reason than usual to be alarmed,” he said.

“It’s a steep mountain face. There are big plates of snow where an avalanche can easily occur. But this morning we had no reason to expect an avalanche of this size and such a tragedy.”

Rescue teams are using helicopters and heat-seeking devices to try to locate the missing. The French authorities described the avalanche as “the most deadly” in recent years.

The weather in the region has been warm and windy over the last few days, which could have led to an increased risk of avalanche at high altitudes, the BBC’s Imogen Foulkes in Berne reports.

Chamonix-based mountain guide Richard Mansfield described the area as “very beautiful”, but said that it was avalanche-prone.
He said the slopes on Mont Maudit faced away from the prevailing wind, which meant snow could be pushed over forming slabs.

“These can easily be set off by a passing climber, causing an avalanche,” he said.

French officials said that Interior Minister Manuel Valls would arrive to the region later on Thursday.

“The interior minister wants to assure the families of his deep sympathy and full support,” Mr Valls said in a statement.

Mont Maudit – meaning the cursed mountain – is the third-highest peak in the Mont Blanc massif range, rising to 4,465m.

Eight climbers were killed in an avalanche near Mont Maudit in 2008.

Source: BBC News

Category: World News |

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Last updated March 24, 2017 at 12:37 AM
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