Swiss rescuers seek missing hiker after deadly avalanche

27th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Rescuers in Switzerland prepared on Sunday to resume the search for a person missing in the Swiss Alps after a party of French hikers was swept away by an avalanche, killing four.

The search was interrupted overnight for safety reasons, police in the southwestern Swiss canton of Valais said, and rescuers hinted that hopes had faded after several hours of digging and probing on Saturday.

Patrick Torrent of the Air Glaciers rescue service said they had faced difficult conditions on Saturday with heavy snow and the risk of another avalanche.

"An evaluation of the weather conditions, the remaining dangers on site and an evaluation of the chances of survival with the doctor will be made and we'll determine what will be engaged," he told Swiss radio RSR.

"The rescuers could call it off depending on the risks still present on the zone and weather that would not allow an evacuation and the transport of rescuers flown to the site," he added.

A guide and police specialists were flown the high mountain slope near the village of Bourg-St-Pierre early Sunday to secure the site, police said.

The party of 11 high altitude hikers from nearby France equipped with skis or snow shoes were caught in the avalanche on Saturday.

Five of them were injured and flown to hospitals in the towns of Martigny and Sion, police said.

Ten helicopters and more than 20 rescuers with trackers dogs were mobilised in an emergency search and rescue operation after the alarm was raised at around 12:30 pm (1130 GMT) by one of the group who escaped unscathed.

The team came from a mountaineering club in Cluses, in nearby eastern France, French radio France-Info reported, and were equipped with avalanche detectors.

But rescuers failed to detect a signal from the missing person to localise them swiftly under about metre of heavy, packed, wet and suffocating snow.

"Even with only one or two legs caught, one person on their own without a spade could not have pulled themselves out of this type of snow," said Torrent.

It was the worst toll in an avalanche in Switzerland this winter, according to a count by Swiss news agency ATS.

© 2011 AFP

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