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Loved ones mourn at French avalanche site

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11:12 CEST+02:00

Relatives of the nine climbers killed by an avalanche in the French Alps gathered at the nearby resort of Chamonix on Friday to pay their respects the day after the tragedy.

The mountaineers who died in the avalanche on Mont Maudit ("Cursed Mountain" in French) in the Mont Blanc massif early on Thursday were three Britons, three Germans, two Spaniards and a Swiss. Twelve others were injured.

Relatives of Roger Payne, a former general secretary of the British Mountaineering Council, arrived in Chamonix late Thursday, as did Britain's ambassador to France Peter Ricketts and the Swiss consul.

"We are here to support the families whatever way they like in these tragic times," Ricketts said, hailing in French the memory of Payne "very well known in Chamonix and in Great Britain."

The brother of one of the dead Spaniards went early Friday to Chamonix hospital where the bodies are being kept in nine rooms.

"We're receiving the victims' families at the town hall with staff and a member of the PGHM," French mountain rescue group, before taking them to the bodies at the hospital, said town hall security official Jean-Louis Verdier.

"We're trying to help them understand as best as possible why their loved ones died, so that they can mourn. There was no technical error," Verdier said.

The avalanche also injured 12 people, one seriously who has been hospitalised in Sion in Switzerland. Six of the injured have already left hospital.

Mont Maudit is the massif's third-highest peak, rising to 4,465 metres (14,650 feet) and is considered one of the more difficult paths to the summit of Mont Blanc, western Europe's highest peak.

Thursday's accident marked the deadliest climbing disaster in France since August 2008, when 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.

Some 20,000 climbers attempt to reach the summit of Mont Blanc every summer, with up to 500 a day during peak times.

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