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Terrible Tragedy in the French Alps at Mont Blanc Nine people dead including three British climbers.

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Terrible Tragedy in the French Alps at Mont Blanc

July 12, 2012 at 6:09 PM


Really sad news about the avalanche 13,000 feet up in the French Alps at Mont Blanc. Eric Fournier, the Chamonix's major in a statement informed the media that "no weather bulletin had been issued warning of an avalanche, and that shifting ice sheets could have caused the disaster". People are speculating whether the recent warmer weather had weakened the ice.

The news story appeared on the Guardian news website and I've put it below for you to read.

Mont Blanc avalanche: three Britons among dead

At least nine killed after avalanche strikes glaciated slope during group ascent on Mont Maudit in French Alps

Three Britons are among at least nine dead after an avalanche in the French Alps in the early hours of Thursday .

A further two British climbers were still missing as search and rescue workers from France and Italy combed the snow-covered slopes near Chamonix hours after the 28-strong group of climbers and guides were hit by a wall of ice and snow.

The search was called off at 5pm French time (4pm BST) and was expected to continue on Friday, depending on weather conditions.

French officials described it as the worst Alpine tragedy for many years.

The British ambassador Sir Peter Ricketts was on his way to Chamonix on Thursday afternoon.

The tragedy struck just after 5am as a group of climbers began a dawn ascent on Mont Maudit (Accursed Mountain) in the Mont Blanc range at Chamonix, at an altitude of just over 4,000m. The climbers were reported to have been roped together in at least two teams as they climbed one of the most popular but dangerous routes up the mountain.

A spokeswoman for the Haute-Savoie region said: "Nine people are dead, three of them British. It is not known whereabouts in the UK they are from." The other fatalities are two Swiss, two German and two Spanish climbers. Another nine were injured and flown to hospital, while four remain missing.

Rescuers said they had searched the entire avalanche area and found no trace of the missing climbers. Colonel Bertrand François, commander of the local mountain gendarmes, said it was possible the bodies were buried deep under the ice and snow or outside of the area the 50-strong mountain rescue teams had searched.

Manuel Valls, the French interior minister, said rescue teams had been working in very difficult conditions.

"The mountain doesn't always give up its victims," he said, "but the search will obviously continue in icy and snowy conditions that are clearly very difficult."

The climbers who died had been among a party that left the Cosmiques mountain hut above the popular Vallée Blanche off-piste ski descent at about 1am to follow the three mountains route, which ascends off the glacier and up the north-east face of Mont Blanc de Tacul. It then climbs Mont Maudit before continuing to the summit of Mont Blanc, continental Europe's highest mountain.

The accident took place on a long glaciated slope running from the shoulder of Mont Blanc du Tacul, up to the summit rock band of Mont Maudit, which is crossed close to a prominent ice cliff.

According to footage from the accident, and accounts of those who arrived on the scene in its immediate aftermath, there was fresh debris from a fallen section of ice cliff close to a large scoured area of wind slab avalanche, which had been deposited by high winds in the previous few days, leading to speculation that falling ice had triggered the slide.

Daniele Ollier, an Italian rescuer quoted on the British Mountaineering Council's website, said the avalanche was 150 metres wide and took place in two phases: the initial serac fall hit the climbers who were higher on the Maudit face, then the windslab avalanche took out the climbers below, sweeping them for 200 metres.

One of the first on the scene was a British guide, Victor Saunders, and his doctor client, who were also following the route. They had left two hours later than the avalanched party after the guide expressed concerns about the weather. They gave first aid to the survivors and alerted the rescue services.

The accident came in amid a bad summer in the Alps that has resulted in several deaths across the region. Earlier this month, five German climbers fell to their deaths in Switzerland, also in a single incident.

A spokesman for the Alpine mountain rescue service, which scrambled a helicopter and sniffer dogs to the area after being alerted by an injured climber just after the avalanche, said it had probably been caused by snow collapsing in the warm July weather. "We were initially alerted just after dawn by one of the survivors who called us on a mobile phone," he said.

Bertrand François, commander of the Haute-Savoie gendarmerie, whose officers were combing the mountainside for survivors on Thursday, offered a glimmer of hope for the missing climbers, saying it was possible the missing had been ahead of the group struck by the avalanche and had not been swept way. "It doesn't necessarily mean they are under the avalanche," he said.

Manuel Valls, the French interior minister, was on his way to the scene of one of the worst mountain tragedies in recent years.

The 4,465m Mont Maudit is widely considered one of the world's most dangerous climbs. The Mont Blanc range claims more than 100 victims a year.

Eric Fournier, the mayor of Chamonix, described the snowslide as one of the deadliest in recent years. "There was no weather bulletin giving any avalanche warning," he said, adding that shifting ice sheets could have triggered the avalanche.

The tragedy is one of the worst in the Mont Blanc region since August 2008, when eight climbers – four Austrians, three Swiss and one German – died in similar circumstances.

Guardian Story Ends. The Story can be seen here Guardian.co.uk

I'm sure that as the investigation gets underway more details will emerge but for the present it's enough to know that there are nine families who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances.

Tags: French News
Category: French News

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