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Three Britons killed in avalanche
Three Britons are among nine climbers who have been killed in an avalanche in the French Alps, according to French authorities.
A major rescue operation was launched following the disaster on Mont Maudit, near Chamonix. Mont Maudit is 4,465 metres high and part of the Mont Blanc range. It means Cursed Mountain in French. The area is one of the most popular with climbers in the Alps.
A spokeswoman for the Préfecture de la Haute-Savoie said: "Nine people are dead, three of them British. It is not known whereabouts in the UK they are from." Local media reported that the dead also included two Germans, two Swiss and two Spaniards. It is understood 28 climbers from several countries were taking part in the expedition at the time.
Several dozen gendarmes and other rescuers along with two helicopters worked to pull the dead and injured from the mountain. The injured climbers were taken to hospital.
Christian Trommsdorff, vice president of the French Guides Association, told the BBC: "Unfortunately this morning there's been a big slab avalanche. We don't know exactly how it was triggered. It is at fairly high altitude there, so it is a snow avalanche. It was triggered by either the people who are climbing themselves or by some ice fall above, we don't know yet."
The spokeswoman for the Prefecture de la Haute-Savoie said the local gendarmerie were alerted at 5.25am that two groups of climbers were in trouble on the northern face of Mont Maudit at 4,000m.
She said that at 5.45am the emergency services were told it was a "slab" avalanche which had hit the mountaineers who were roped together. Some of those caught in the avalanche were supervised by professional mountaineering guides but others were climbing independently. The spokeswoman said nine people were taken to hospital in Sallanches with minor injuries and a chapel had been established in the hospital in Chamonix to help families involved in the tragedy.
There were 28 people who left the climbing hut to attempt the route. These were French, Swiss, Serbian, German, Spanish and British. The spokeswoman said some had crossed the path of the avalanche before it hit and others were able to turn back.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokesman said: "We are aware of the avalanche in the French Alps near Chamonix and reports three British nationals have died. We are urgently seeking information from the rescue authorities, but as yet do not have official confirmation of these deaths. We are aware of five missing British nationals and are urgently working to establish their whereabouts. Consular staff from the British Embassy in Paris are en route to the area to offer consular assistance."
The FCO has set up a phone number for concerned relatives and friends to contact. It is 0207 008 1500.