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Avalanche kills five soldiers during training in French Alps

Jeff Pachoud, AFP | Five French Foreign Legionnaires were killed Monday in an avalanche

Five French Foreign Legionnaires were killed Monday in an avalanche as they were on a training exercise in the French Alps, police sources said, the second such tragedy to strike the region in less than a week.

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Another six were injured near the resort of Valfréjus, with one in intensive care in hospital after suffering hypothermia.

They were among a group of 50 soldiers taking part in the skiing exercise.

Three helicopters were involved in the search, as well as five police dogs and three doctors.

The nationalities of the victims were not immediately known. The French Foreign Legion attracts recruits from around the world.

President François Hollande “has learned with emotion of the deaths of five Legionaries … swept away by an avalanche during a training excercise in Valfréjus”, a statement from the Elysée Paris said.

“He extends his condolences to their families and loved ones and expresses the solidarity of the nation,” it added.

The avalanche took place at 13:50 pm local time (12:50 GMT) at an altitude of between 2,350 and 2,600 metres (7,700-8,500 feet).

French prosecutors are looking into whether they or military authorities should handle the probe of the accident. If investigators find evidence of criminal wrongdoing the military would handle the case.

The regiment to which the soldiers were attached is specialised in mountain warfare and all the members have military skiing qualifications.

The unit experienced a similar tragedy in 2012 when an avalanche swept away five of its members, leaving one dead.

The accident comes after two teenagers on a school trip and a Ukrainian tourist were killed in an avalanche in the French Alps last Wednesday.

A French teacher who took the students onto a closed skiing piste in that incident has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The 47-year-old, who was seriously injured in the incident, was charged at his bedside in hospital in the south-central city of Grenoble.

The victims, a 16-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy, were from a school in Lyon. The 56-year-old Ukrainian man who was also killed in the avalanche was not part of the group.

According to prosecutors, the piste was closed off with netting and warnings in four languages but the school group climbed over the netting "fully aware" of what they were doing.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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