Four killed in Swiss avalanche: police
Four people were killed on Saturday and one was missing after a group of French high altitude hikers was swept away by an avalanche in the Swiss Alps, police in southwestern Switzerland said.
They were among a party of 11 hikers equipped with skis or snow shoes who were caught in an avalanche near Bourg-St-Pierre, said Jean-Marie Bornet, a spokesman for police in the Swiss canton of Valais.
"We can say that these are French people who come from or live in the region of Cluses," in nearby eastern France, he told Swiss television TSR.
Three of them were found dead while six others were pulled out alive but injured and flown to local hospitals, police said. One of the injured later died, they added at a news conference.
The alarm was raised at around 12:30 pm (1130 GMT) by one of the party who managed to escape unscathed. The nine others were uncovered by rescue teams with tracker dogs rushed by helicopter to the mountainous area near the Italian border.
"We still have one missing," Bornet told AFP.
"There were 11. It's always a race against time" he added.
Bornet said the party was well equipped with avalanche detection devices although it later emerged they were not accompanied by a mountain guide.
Rescuers said they worked through the afternoon despite the danger of fresh snowslides, but the search for the missing hiker was called off overnight.
The area was on an alert level of three on a scale of five denoting a "marked danger" of avalanches on Saturday, according to the latest bulletin of the Swiss national avalanche centre.
Robert Bolognesi, a snow expert who works with Valais rescue services, said that it was possible to go off the beaten track in the mountains with such an alert level with the right precautions.
"We know it's a marked danger, that means you have to be careful, in particular take care not to trigger an avalanche oneself, but it's a danger that occurs more or less every other day in winter," he explained.
The group was close to the legendary week-long "Haute Route" trek across mountain peaks and glaciers between the French Alpine town of Chamonix and the Swiss resort of Zermatt, which attracts groups of experienced ski hikers in early spring.
ROBERT BOLOGNESI, NIVOLOGUE
"On sait que ce'est un danger marque, ca veut dire qu'il faut etre prudent en particulier faire attention ne pas declencher soi-meme des avalanches, mais c'est un danger qu'on a a peu pres un jour sur deux en hiver. Et si on prend toutes les regles et qu'on les applique, les distances de securite, et si on essaie au mieux d'evaluer le mieux possible la stabilite du manteau neigeux, il est possible de sortir a degre 3 bien entendu."
© 2011 AFP