Nine killed after avalanche strikes glaciated slope during ascent on Mont Maudit in French Alps

July 12, 2012 EUROPEThree Britons are among at least nine dead after an avalanche in the French Alps in the early hours of Thursday. A further two British climbers were still missing as search and rescue workers from France and Italy combed the snow-covered slopes near Chamonix hours after the 28-strong group of climbers and guides were hit by a wall of ice and snow. The search was called off at 5pm French time (4pm BST) and was expected to continue on Friday, depending on weather conditions. French officials described it as the worst Alpine tragedy for many years. The British ambassador Sir Peter Ricketts was on his way to Chamonix on Thursday afternoon. The tragedy struck just after 5am as a group of climbers began a dawn ascent on Mont Maudit (Accursed Mountain) in the Mont Blanc range at Chamonix, at an altitude of just over 4,000m. The climbers were reported to have been roped together in at least two teams as they climbed one of the most popular but dangerous routes up the mountain. A spokeswoman for the Haute-Savoie region said: “Nine people are dead, three of them British. It is not known whereabouts in the UK they are from.” The other fatalities are two Swiss, two German and two Spanish climbers. Another nine were injured and flown to hospital, while four remain missing. Rescuers said they had searched the entire avalanche area and found no trace of the missing climbers. Colonel Bertrand François, commander of the local mountain gendarmes, said it was possible the bodies were buried deep under the ice and snow or outside of the area the 50-strong mountain rescue teams had searched. Manuel Valls, the French interior minister, said rescue teams had been working in very difficult conditions. “The mountain doesn’t always give up its victims,” he said, “but the search will obviously continue in icy and snowy conditions that are clearly very difficult.” –Guardian
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