Tragedy struck in the French Alps Thursday when an avalanche swept over a group of foreign climbers and killed at least nine.
The climbers from the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Switzerland were making a dawn ascent of the perilous northeastern face of Mont Maudit, which translates as “Cursed Mountain,” when a sheet of ice dislodged and overtook them, the Telegraph reports.
Search-and-rescue teams, including trained mountain dogs, combed the snow-covered slopes for hours after the disaster, which authorities described as “the most deadly tragedy in recent years.”
The dead included three Britons, three Germans, two Spaniards and one Swiss.
Initial reports said four climbers were missing, but by nightfall all were accounted for, including two who had turned back before the avalanche.
Among the 11 people that were rescued and evacuated to the hospital Sallanches, was an American, the only known non-European.
“The death toll stops at nine,” said French Interior Minister Manuel Valls. “There is no longer anyone on the disappeared list. It’s some good news to finish a dramatic day.”
Police said they were alerted around 5:25am to the avalanche, which hit the group of climbers while they were some 13,000 feet (4000 meters) high on the north face of Mont Maudit, part of the Mont Blanc range.
It was apparently triggered by a climber accidentally breaking loose a 16-inch-thick block of ice that slid down the slope, unleashing the mass of snow, officials said.
Witnesses said that “a climber could have set loose a sheet of ice, and that sheet then pulled down the group of climbers below. I should say the incline was very, very steep on this northern face,” Col. Bertrand Francois of the Haute-Savoie police told reporters.
According to ABC News the death toll in the Alps usually numbers about 100 per year.
ABC has more on the tragic French Alps avalanche in the video below: