At least four skiers have been killed and five more missing after an avalanche struck close to a popular resort in the French Alps on Monday, rescue workers said.
Local authorities and police in the town of Albertville said the group of nine - eight holidaymakers and a guide - had been skiing off-piste near the Tignes ski resort when the avalanche hit.
The five who remain missing were initially feared buried under the snow, but it later emerged that the group may have split into two separate groups before the avalanche hit, meaning they could have escaped the worst accident in France since the start of this year's ski season.
No information was immediately available about the skiers’ nationalities.
Staff in Tignes, which is situated near the Italian border, witnessed the wall of snow barrel down the mountain and raised the alarm at around 10:35am (0935 GMT) on Monday.
The ski station said it was a "slab" avalanche, caused when dense wind-packed snow breaks off.
The avalanche, some 400 metres wide, was apparently set off by a group of skiers higher up, the ski station reported.
Two helicopters, rescue workers and sniffer dogs are searching for the missing, with about 40 people in total involved in the operation.
The accident near Tignes, a major resort near the Italian border, occurred at an altitude of 2,100 metres (6,900 feet).
The ski resort is particularly busy right now with the beginning of the half-term holidays.
Monday's avalanche risk in the area was listed as three on a scale of five.
Before the avalanche, 13 accidents have been recorded in the Alps and Pyrenees so far this winter, claiming a total of three lives.
Last winter there were 45 accidents and 21 fatalities.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
Date created : 2017-02-13