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Five people killed as mountain rescue helicopter crashes in French Alps

French investigators are seeking to ascertain the cause of the crash of a mountain rescue helicopter in the Alps that left five dead and the pilot fighting for his life.

Five people killed as mountain rescue helicopter crashes in French Alps
Illustration photo: AFP

The helicopter, an Airbus EC135 operated by a private firm, crashed Tuesday evening around the town of Bonvillard just outside Albertville, one of the main resorts in the French Alps.

The Préfet for the Savoie département, Pascal Bolot, said of the five passengers and pilot on board only the pilot had survived but was badly injured.

Despite difficult weather conditions with fog at the crash site 1,800 metres above sea level, he was evacuated to hospital.

Bolot said it was the pilot himself who had raised the alarm.

He added that an investigation has been opened by the prosecutor for Albertville but did not offer any explanation over how the crash happened.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin is also due at the scene later on Wednesday. Investigators from France's Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis (BEA) agency for aviation are also set to arrive.

 

Two of those killed were members of the police unit responsible for mountain rescues – a captain aged 45 and a brigadier aged 39 – who were taking part in a training exercise, France's national police force said on its Twitter account.

The other three killed were employees of the private firm that operated the helicopter and also employed the pilot.

 

“To save lives, they take all the risks,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a tweet, paying tribute to those killed and the pilot “fighting for his life”.

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POLICE

Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

A Frenchwoman and a Spaniard were killed and nine other mountaineers were injured on Friday in an ice fall in southwest Switzerland, police said following a rescue attempt involving several helicopters.

Two mountaineers killed and 9 injured in ice fall in Swiss mountains

Police received calls at 6.20 am reporting that mountaineers had been caught up in falling seracs — columns of glacial ice formed by crevasses — on the Grand Combin, a glacial massif near the Italian border in the Wallis region.

Seven helicopters with mountain rescue experts flew to the scene, finding 17 mountaineers split among several groups.

“Two people died at the scene of the accident,” Wallis police said in a statement. They were a 40-year-old Frenchwoman and a 65-year-old man from Spain.

Nine mountaineers were airlifted to hospitals in nearby Sion and in Lausanne. Two of them are seriously injured, police said.

Other mountaineers were evacuated by helicopter.

The regional public prosecutor has opened an investigation “to determine the circumstances of this event”, the police said.

The serac fall happened at an altitude of 3,400 metres in the Plateau de Dejeuner section along the Voie du Gardien ascent route.

The Grand Combin massif has three summits above 4,000 metres, the highest of which is the Combin de Grafeneire at 4,314 metres.

The police issued a note of caution about setting off on such high-altitude expeditions.

“When the zero-degree-Celsius isotherm is around 4,000 metres above sea level, it is better to be extra careful or not attempt the route if in doubt,” Wallis police said.

“The golden rule is to find out beforehand from the mountain guides about the chosen route and its current feasibility.”

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