13 Jul 2012

Nine dead in French Alps avalanche

11:36 am on 13 July 2012

Nine climbers have been killed in an avalanche near ski resort of Chamonix in the French Alps.

The dead are three Britons, three Germans, two Spaniards and one Swiss, authorities said.

Twelve people were injured, one of whom, a Swiss national, was in a critical condition and had been taken to hospital across the Swiss border in Sion. Six of the injured had been released from hospital by Thursday evening.

Police said four climbers believed to have been missing were later accounted for.

The deadly avalanche swept down a climbing route near the border with Switzerland at about 0300 GMT on Thursday.

The Mont Maudit route is one of two popular access ways to the famous Mont Blanc peak.

About 38 climbers were on the mountain when the avalanche hit without warning in fine weather conditions, the head of the Haute-Savoie rescue squad, Bertrand Francois, told a news conference.

That included 28 people in two separate teams as well as solitary climbers, he said, adding that some of the climbers had managed to turn and flee.

French authorities said a preliminary investigation suggested a climber may have stepped on an icy patch, unwittingly triggering the giant slide.

Many of the climbers were roped together for safety reasons, and some of the injured sustained broken bones.

Authorities had not expected any avalanches, as conditions were good on Thursday morning, said Jean-Louis Verdier, mayor of the resort town of Chamonix.

Eight Swiss, German and Austrian climbers perished in a similar avalanche nearby in 2008.