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Rescue teams locate bodies of missing climbers

Published on 26/08/2008

26 August 2008

CHAMONIX — Rescuers have located the bodies of eight climbers missing after an avalanche in the French Alps on Monday but said it was too dangerous to attempt their extraction.

Flying over the scene of Sunday’s avalanche on Mont Blanc du Tacul, they used radio frequencies to pick up signals sent by the climbers’ safety transmitters.

"We have found seven different signals," said Regis Lavergne, the commander of the Chamonix PGHM mountain rescue services.

At least two groups of climbers roped together are probably under the avalanche, without much chance of survivors, a police official said.

Dangerous snow conditions have prevented rescue workers from retrieving the bodies, some of which had fallen into a deep crevasse.

"It is an extremely dangerous area because it is surrounded by a block of ice. There’s no question of sending our men out there. We cannot put our rescue workers’ lives at risk," the police official told AFP.

"If the snow melts, and this might not happen because we’re close to the end of the summer, it’s possible that the bodies will come to the surface. If that happens we’ll go and get them," he said.

Investigators identified the missing bodies as an Austrian guide, his four German clients, a Swiss guide and a Swiss couple.

They had previously thought that five Austrians and three Swiss were missing after the disaster.

The first group of climbers comprised the Austrian guide, who was in his thirties and came from Tyrol, and four German clients from a tour operating company, including a woman, aged between 28 and 43.

The second group was made up of the Swiss guide, 32, and the Swiss couple aged 28 and 34. All three came from the canton of Berne.

Some of the victim’s families arrived in Chamonix Monday evening, where they received support from the PGHM, which is still trying to track down other family members.

Rescue teams are continuing to search for other possible victims, who may have also stayed in the mountain refuge, which the eight climbers left around 3:00 am (0100 GMT) Sunday, police said.

But officials do not think there are any more missing people.

The hunt for the climbers was based on a list of 47 people who ate breakfast at the mountain refuge before the avalanche, showing that eight people were reported missing after the first rescue operations.

The avalanche, 200 metres long and 50 metres wide, struck at an altitude of 3,600 metres on the north face of Mont Blanc du Tacul.

The avalanche appeared to have been caused by a block of glacier ice that broke free and rolled down the mountain, a regular event in both winter and summer in these mountains, according to locals.

"I saw a wall of ice coming towards us and then we were carried 200 metres," said Italian Marco Delfini, one of the survivors.

Three helicopters, dozens of rescuers and sniffer dogs had searched frantically Sunday but found only bags, socks, ice picks and other personal belongings.

The search was called off late Sunday for fear of new avalanches.

Around 30 people have died in accidents in the French Alps this summer, the majority while climbing Mont-Blanc. Sixty others have perished in the Italian and Swiss Alps.

[AFP / Expatica]