CAMPO TURES, Italy (AP) — Relatives of six backcountry skiers who were killed in an avalanche in the Italian Alps paid their final respects Sunday as investigators sought to piece together how such a huge block of snow could have dislodged when the risks were so moderate.
The bodies of the dead were laid out at the tiny chapel in Campo Tures, close to the Austrian border in Italy's Alto Adige region. The five Italian and one Austrian dead, as well as nine survivors, had been helicoptered down to the valley from near the top of Monte Nevoso's 3,350-meter (11,000-foot) peak after Saturday's avalanche.
Paolo Rieder, uncle of victim Alexander Rieder, said his nephew never took risks but that the mountains can be unpredictable. Alexander Rieder left behind a wife and three young children.
Outside the chapel, Paolo Rieder said his nephew "loved the sport and went up the mountains a lot. But they were well equipped and they never risked doing dangerous things. But you know how it has gone."
As relatives said goodbye, Carabinieri police flew by helicopter over the site to try to ascertain what triggered the avalanche. Alpine experts said it was likely the result of a new batch of snow that appeared to have simply slipped off the base snow from earlier in the season.
The avalanche risk forecast for Saturday was moderate, a two on 1-to-5 scale. But Fabio Gheser, from the avalanche protection service, said even with such a moderate risk, a bigger-than-foreseen tragedy could occur because of the particulars of this season's snowfall.
"There's a low possibility that an avalanche will be triggered, but if it does, the size of these avalanches would be extremely large because the whole mass of snow that has accumulated over the winter would dislodge," he said.
The deputy mayor of Campo Tures, Stefano Mariucci, said the tiny Alpine village was shocked by the tragedy, particularly since one of the dead was a 16-year-old from a nearby town.
"We are very upset about what happened. But we are very proud of the guys of the Alpine rescue team because they did an excellent job," he said.
Nicole Winfield reported from Rome.