Mont Blanc avalanche: 'Scary and tragic' (+video)
Nine hikers in France lost their lives in an avalanche on Mont Blanc in France, home to the first Winter Olympics in 1924. The dead include one of Britain's most famous climbers.
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The Mont Blanc massif is a popular area for climbers, hikers and tourists but a dangerous one, with dozens dying on it each year. Chamonix, a global epicenter for serious alpine climbing, hosted the first Winter Olympics in 1924.Skip to next paragraph
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Police said they were alerted around 5:25 a.m. to the avalanche, which hit a group of climbers who were some 13,100 feet (4,000 meters) high on the north face of Mont Maudit, part of the Mont Blanc range. It was apparently triggered by a climber accidentally breaking loose a 16-inch-thick block of ice that slid down the slope, unleashing the mass of snow, officials said.
Witnesses said that "a climber could have set loose a sheet of ice, and that sheet then pulled down the group of climbers below. I should say the incline was very, very steep on this northern face," Col. Bertrand Francois of the Haute-Savoie police told reporters.
It was not immediately known if that climber was among the dead.
According to tweets from those on the mountain, high winds led to overhanging ice slabs forming on the slope. Several days ago Chamonix saw a monsoon-like downpour, which turned to snow at an altitude of 9,850 feet (3,000 meters).
"The problem is it's been pretty warm and it's been raining as well, so there was ice below," said Andersson, who has lived in the Chamonix area for three years.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls flew over the avalanche site, describing it as "a particularly spectacular block of ice." He said the climbers appeared to be an experienced group, and that the churned-up snow had made the search particularly difficult.
Jonas Moestrup from the western Danish city of Randers heard about the accident as he was on his way down from Mont Blanc.
"Three days ago, we ascended it. It was shocking to hear, it could easily have been us," he told the Danish news agency Ritzau by telephone. "It is scary and tragic."
Still, he noted the allure of those foreboding, majestic Alpine peaks.
"It's part of the thrill that something can go wrong," he said.
Associated Press writers Angela Charlton in Paris. Anja Niedringhaus in Chamonix, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Sylvia Hui in London, David Rising in Berlin and Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this report.