25 Jan 2017

Helicopter crashes in Italy avalanche region

11:50 am on 25 January 2017

A helicopter has crashed in the Italian mountains, killing all six on board.

Rescuers work at the crash site in the mountains, near the ski resort of Campo Felice, central Italy.

Rescuers work at the crash site in the mountains, near the ski resort of Campo Felice, central Italy. Photo: AFP / STR / NurPhoto

The helicopter had been heading to a hospital in the regional capital of L'Aquila, with an injured skier aboard, when it plunged into a mountainside.

The crash further stretched emergency workers still dealing with a deadly avalanche at the Hotel Rigopiano, about 100km away.

The discovery of the bodies of two women brought the death toll from last Wednesday's destruction of the mountain hotel to 17, as the first funerals of the victims were held. Rescuers are still searching through snow and rubble at the buried building.

The unrelated helicopter crash happened in fog, on the other side of the Gran Sasso range in the Abruzzo region. The cause was not immediately known.

Rescue workers had to climb up part of a mountain to reach the wrecked helicopter.

A handout aerial picture made available on 19 January 2017 by Vigili del Fuoco shows Hotel Rigopiano, buried in an avalanche, in the region of Abruzzo near Farindola, Italy.

The death toll at the Hotel Rigopiano has risen to 17 following the avalanche. Photo: AFP / DPA

The new disaster hit the region as the first funerals were held for the victims of the avalanche disaster.

Family and friends of hotel worker Alessandro Giancaterino filed into a church in nearby Farindola behind the 42-year-old's coffin, which was draped with an Inter Milan soccer club flag.

"He was a perfect person. Kind, gentle. He loved his job at the hotel," one friend said outside the church.

His brother, former Farindola mayor Massimiliano Giancaterino, told Italian state TV earlier in the week that he had signed off on permission to add an extension to the hotel while in office.

"If I had known this would happen I would have cut off my right arm rather than sign the approval," the former mayor said. "But hindsight doesn't solve anything. You only ever think of doing what is best for the area, giving people opportunity."

Some of the 11 survivors spent two days under ice and rubble. Twelve people are still missing since the wall of snow razed the four-storey building last Wednesday, hours after earthquakes shook Abruzzo and the neighbouring regions.

Three puppies were found alive in the hotel's crushed boiler room on Monday. The last time surviving people were brought out was on Saturday morning.

But officials vowed to carry on with the rescue effort.

"We will not stop until we are certain that no one else is left under there," said civil protection official Luigi D'Angelo. "We are searching in the heart of the building."

Prosecutors in nearby Pescara have opened an investigation into the hotel disaster. Pescara prosecutor Cristina Tedeschini said her office would probe the hotel's structure, accessibility and communications surrounding the incident.

A rescuer at the Hotel Rigopiano.

A rescuer at the Hotel Rigopiano. Photo: AFP / Handout / CNSAS

- Reuters