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ACCIDENT

Nine dead in French Alps avalanche

An avalanche swept over a group of foreign climbers in the French Alps on Thursday, killing at least nine people in the deadliest such disaster in the region in a decade.

Most of the dead found after the avalanche on Mont Maudit, which translates as “Cursed Mountain”, were Europeans, police said.

At least two Germans, two Swiss and two Spaniards, were initially found dead after the early morning avalanche, local police Colonel Bertrand Francois said, while another three bodies were discovered during rescue efforts.

Authorities had said earlier that five Britons and two Spaniards were among those missing but it was unclear if the bodies found were theirs.

Nine people were injured in the disaster.

Efforts were continuing to track down the missing climbers on the mountain in the Mont Blanc massif. Francois said they had been moving ahead of the rest of the group so may have avoided the avalanche.

In Paris, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said he was heading to the scene to oversee operations.

“Searches are still underway to find the missing,” he said in a statement.

“The interior minister wants to assure the families of his deep sympathy and full support.”

One of the injured sounded the alert at around 0325 GMT after the avalanche on Mont Maudit, the massif’s third-highest peak, rising to an altitude of 4,465 metres (14,650 feet), and considered one of the more difficult paths to climbing Mont Blanc.

“No weather report was forecasting an avalanche risk,” the mayor of the nearby town of Chamonix, Eric Fournier, told AFP.

It is the deadliest climbing disaster in at least a decade in France.

In August 2008, eight climbers — four Germans, three Swiss and an Austrian guide — were swept away after blocks of ice broke off Mont Blanc du Tacul, prompting an avalanche.

Thousands of tourists flock to the French Alps every year for sports including mountain climbing and skiing, but every year some fall victim to accidents.

A Norwegian cross-country skier died in April after being caught up in an avalanche on Mont Blanc, only about a month after a Canadian skier died after plunging into a 20-metre (65-foot) crevice on the mountain.

Rescue workers are often called in to assist stranded climbers or skiers.

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SKI

Dad’s ‘miracle escape’ after being buried by avalanche in French Alps

A man out walking with his family in the French Alps has made a miraculous escape from an avalanche after spending more than two and a half hours trapped under snow, rescuers said.

Dad's 'miracle escape' after being buried by avalanche in French Alps
Ski lifts in France are closed, but visitors and locals are free to enjoy other outdoor sports. Photo: AFP

The 50-year-old father was snowshoeing near the high-altitude Val d'Isere ski resort with his wife and two children on Thursday without anti-avalanche safety equipment.

“Thank to the mobilisation of nearly 100 people… the man was found alive after two hours and 40 minutes of searching,” the police for the local Savoie département announced on Twitter.

Because of the depth of the snow, rescue dogs were unable to detect a trace, but the man was eventually dug out by a specialised mountain police team which used a Wolfhound device to locate his mobile phone under the ice.

“I think it's a miracle,” Alexandre Grether from the PGHM rescue team told the France 3 local news channel, adding that the man was found 2.5 metres (eight feet) below the surface.

The chances of survival after more than 20 minutes in an avalanche are usually slim.

“He was protected by a tree, that's what prevented him from being crushed by all the ice that slid down. The snow had surrounded him, but he had a pocket of air,” he explained.

The victim is expected to make a full recovery after suffering a fracture to his hip.

The avalanche risk on Thursday was at its maximum – five on a scale of five – and rescuers urge people to always check the snow conditions before venturing out.

READ ALSO 'Whole season a write-off' – what next for France's ski resorts?

Ski lifts in the Alps, which have seen some of their heaviest snowfalls in years in January, are currently closed because of restrictions imposed by the government to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Visitors and locals are free to enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing, but occupancy levels in hotels and chalets are way down and business owners and seasonal staff face serious hardships.

The government has promised an economic support package for the sector.

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