Page last updated at 16:22 GMT, Sunday, 24 August 2008 17:22 UK

Hopes fade for avalanche victims


The scene of the avalanche in France

Rescue teams and France's interior minister say there is little hope of saving several climbers swept away by an avalanche in the Mont Blanc range.

At least eight people are thought to be trapped under the snow. They were among a party of climbers hit by a wall of snow 200m (600ft) long and 50m wide.

Eight survived the snowslide and were taken to a hospital in Chamonix.

The search for survivors, involving helicopters and rescuers with dogs, has been hindered by new avalanche threats.

Officials said the eight missing on the Mont-Blanc du Tacul mountain included five Austrians and two Swiss climbers.

Mont Blanc map

Originally there were reported to be 10 people missing, but police later revised that figure to eight, the AFP news agency reported.

However France's Interior Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, said it was impossible to know for certain how many were missing.

The minister, who flew into the area on Sunday evening, said that by then there was "no longer any chance of finding someone alive".

That echoed the opinion of a search official interviewed on LCI television, who said there was "no hope" of recovering anyone alive.

After a day in which 40 searchers, with specially trained dogs, and three helicopters failed to find any trace of the missing adventurers, the search was called off. Officials said conditions and the threat of fresh avalanches made it too dangerous to continue.

'Wall of ice'

The eight people brought to safety were reported to include five French climbers and three Italians, aged between 26 and 37 years.

One, Italian Marco Delfini, told LCI he saw "a wall of ice coming towards us and then we were carried 200 metres".

"I was not completely submerged... I managed to help the others," he said.

The avalanche is believed to have happened at about 0300 (0100 GMT), after a large block of glacier ice broke off higher up the mountain. Often climbers set out very early in the morning when attempting a major trek.

"It's probable, according to statements made to us, that the climbers roped together were on the path up the mountain, and in the place where the block of ice tumbled down," Eric Fournier, the mayor of nearby Chamonix, told AFP.

The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris says it has been a lethal summer in the Alps with about 100 climbers killed since 1 June in France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland - about 20 of them have died on Mont Blanc.


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