Three German hikers killed in giant Swiss avalanche

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Three people were killed and one was injured on Friday after seven ski hikers from Germany were swept away by a giant avalanche high in the southwestern Swiss Alps, police said.

The alarm was raised by two of nine-strong party who were missed by the huge mass of snow on a pristine mountain slope, police in the canton of Valais said.

Rescuers pulled four people from the snow after they were rushed to the spot above the village of Ayer by helicopter.

"The avalanche killed three and injured one person," police spokesman Jean-Marie Bornet told AFP. "The other members of the group were not hurt."

Police said the avalanche happened at 9:45 am (0745 GMT) at an altitude of about 2,500 metres (8,200 feet).

Rescuers described it as "gigantic", triggering an exceptional front of snow 500 metres wide that came crashing half a kilometre down the mountainside.

The ski hikers came from the southwest German town of Friedrichshafen, police said in a statement.

An avalanche alert on level three of a scale of five was in force across the Swiss Alps on Friday, signalling a "marked" danger as the high altitude ski touring season was underway.

Five hikers from a French mountaineering club were killed, including one still missing feared dead, and five were injured last Saturday when 11 people were hit by an avalanche further west in the Valais region.

© 2011 AFP

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