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Deadly avalanche strikes French Alps; at least nine climbers dead

July 12, 2012 |  7:41 am

Avalanche
This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

PARIS -- Nine climbers died and several others were missing after a climbing party was struck by an avalanche in the French Alps early Thursday.

Search and rescue teams, including sniffer dogs, were still combing the snow-covered slopes hours after the disaster, which was described as one of the worst such tragedies in recent years. Eight other climbers were injured after being swept down the mountain and were flown by helicopter to a hospital. Another two climbers escaped unhurt.

PHOTOS: Deadly avalanche in French Alps

The dead were reported to include three Britons and climbers from Switzerland, Germany and
Spain.

The 25-member group was making a dawn ascent of the perilous north face of Mont Maudit, which translates as Cursed Mountain in English, in the Mont Blanc range near the resort town of Chamonix. The climbers were above the 13,000-foot level when the avalanche struck shortly after 5 a.m. Early reports suggested the party was climbing in three groups roped together when they were hit by a wall of snow and ice dislodged by rising summer temperatures.

One of the injured climbers contacted the emergency services by mobile phone.

[Updated July 12, 9:40 a.m.: Officials later raised the number of people in the climbing group to 28. The search was called off late Thursday and expected to resume Friday, weather permitting.]

It was the worst disaster in the Mont Blanc range since August 2008, when 20 climbers were caught in a huge avalanche that killed eight of them. The area is popular with climbers.

In 2007, four people who were badly equipped died of exposure on Mont Blanc. In July 2003, six climbers and a mountain guide were struck by a block of ice that killed three of them.

On Thursday, Philippe de Rumigny, the local governor, said a slab of snow and ice nearly 16 inches thick had come loose in a particularly icy section of the mountain.

"There was no weather warning of an avalanche risk," De Rumigny told reporters.

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 Photo: A helicopter patrols the air as part of rescue operations following an avalanche on Mont Maudit, near Chamonix in the French Alps. Credit: Gregory Yetchmeniza / European Pressphoto Agency.

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