Published March 27, 2011
GENEVA -- Swiss police continued their search Sunday for a missing French tourist after an avalanche buried a group out snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the country's south.
Four people were killed and five injured Saturday when the 11-strong group were caught by the avalanche on a road on the 12,200-foot Mont Velan in the Pennine Alps near the Swiss-Italian border.
The search for the missing victim was called off for the night later Saturday due to dangerous conditions, police said. It continued Sunday with the use of helicopters and guides.
The group were from the Cluses region of France -- nine snowshoers, and two cross-country skiers. They were traveling without a guide, but carried avalanche beacons, police said.
Police spokesman Jean-Marie Bornet for the canton (state) Valais said earlier at least three of the dead were buried by the avalanche.
Police said the avalanche near the road tunnel at the Grand St. Bernard Pass was about 300 meters long and 40 meters wide.
Rescuers were alerted shortly after noon by one of the group, a woman who escaped unharmed. A vast search operation involving 10 helicopters, three ambulances, 20 guide rescuers, eight doctors and eight dog handlers was launched on the slopes above the picturesque Alpine village of Bourg-St-Pierre.
The five injured skiers were taken to several hospitals in Valais. A sixth was admitted to the University Hospital in Lausanne, but died from his injuries, police said. Some of the victims were still being identified.
Switzerland's National Avalanche Center had warned of a "considerable" risk of snowslides in the region.
In January 2010, six people died in an avalanche in another Swiss region, Diemtigtal, and a doctor who went to help was swept away in a second avalanche.