Switzerland avalanche death toll reaches 7

AP News
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Posted: Jan 05, 2010 9:46 AM

The bodies of three skiers missing after an avalanche in central Switzerland were found Tuesday, raising to seven the death toll in the country's worst avalanche disaster in more than a decade, rescue officials said.

The bodies of a Swiss woman, a Swiss man and a German man were found in the Diemtig Valley, 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of the capital, Bern, said Theo Maurer, chief instructor of the Swiss air rescue service Rega. No other people have been reported missing.

The victims were part of a group of off-piste skiers who were hit by an avalanche shortly before midday Sunday, burying two. A second avalanche about half an hour later hit the rescuers who arrived to help the skiers.

An emergency operation involving eight helicopters and 100 rescuers was able to pull nine people from the snow. One man was already dead. Three others died in the hospital of their injuries.

The earlier victims were identified as a German and three Swiss, one of whom was a rescue doctor who had flown in to help.

Rescuers were unable to search for the remaining skiers Monday because fog and snow prevented them from safely accessing the mountainous area by air or on foot. Experts held out little hope the missing three would be found alive.

It was the worst avalanche disaster in Switzerland since February 1999, when two snow slides swept away several chalets in the canton of Valais, killing 12 people.

The start of the ski season and heavy snowfall in recent days have prompted officials to warn of a heightened avalanche risk in the Swiss Alps. Elsewhere Sunday, a Swiss man was killed and his guide was injured in an avalanche near the southern town of Verbier. Last week, an avalanche killed three people skiing off-piste in neighboring France.