Seven dead in French Alps avalanche

An archive picture shows the Dome and the Barre des Ecrins mountains in the French Alps, near Pelvoux.
An archive picture shows the Dome and the Barre des Ecrins mountains in the French Alps, near Pelvoux.REUTERS

GRENOBLE, France (AFP) - Seven people were killed Tuesday when an avalanche swept them away in the French Alps, a local official told AFP, one of the deadliest snowslides to hit France over the past decade.

The avalanche struck around midday at the Snow Dome in the Alps' Massif des Ecrins, an easy-to-access 4,015m-high mountain that is hugely popular with climbers.

Rescuers, backed by three helicopters and sniffer dogs, were dispatched to the scene but local official Pierre Besnard said search operations had now ended and the bodies of the climbers were being transported down.

Besnard said seven people had died, and one had been injured, adding that at least five of the victims were foreign, without detailing what their nationalities were.

"We have to tell consular authorities," he told reporters.

Climbers and skiers are sporadically caught in avalanches in the popular Alps, particularly during the winter season, but this is the deadliest accident so far this year.

In January, six skiers were carried away by an avalanche in the Queyras mountain range of the Alps.

Just over two months later, two Austrians and an Italian died in the Massif des Ecrins.

Christian Flagella, a member of the police force in the Hautes-Alpes region where the mountain is located, said the avalanche was likely triggered when a layer of snow separated and hurtled down the hill.

"The conditions are winter-like at the moment," he said.

Rescuer Nicolas Colombani added a lot of snow had fallen over the weekend, particularly at a high altitude.

The avalanche struck on a section of the mountain that is popular with amateur climbers as it does not require advanced technical skills.