Four Britons die in Alps raft accident

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FOUR BRITONS were killed yesterday in a white-water rafting accident on a swollen, fast-flowing mountain river in Austria. The victims - three men and a woman - were among eight British people flung into the Salzach river, near Salzburg, when their boat hit a whirlpool, capsized and was ripped apart in rapids.

Three of the holidaymakers were injured and taken to the hospital in Schwarzach. One survivor, Tanya Davies, paid tribute to the Austrian emergency services. The instructor, from the area, was pulled unhurt from the water.

Three of the four dead holidaymakers had travelled to Austria with Airtours.

A spokesman for the company said last night: "It was a package holiday from our `Lakes and Mountains' brochure. This appeals to people looking for an outdoor holiday, not necessarily an adventure holiday, but something a little bit different from lying around on a beach."

The one-week package included flights and accommodation. Excursions were offered on arrival in the resort.

The boat was run by a British-owned adventure holiday company, Rafting Centre Taxenbach, used by Airtours since 1990.

A police investigation is under way to determine whether the capsized vessel was one which had reportedly been repaired shortly before the holidaymakers set off. Trevor Hamer, leader of the rafting group and owner of the company, refused to comment.

The Airtours spokesman said: "So far it seems like it was a tragic accident. They were all wearing the life-jackets and helmets. There is nothing at this stage to suggest anything untoward."

The accident happened about 2pm in rapids that had been swollen by to up to three metres by melting snow.

A spokesman for Salzburg police said: "Normally it's not a dangerous river. But now there's more water, because it was raining and the snow is melting on the mountains."

The spokesman said the inflatable rubber boat hit a whirlpool and was torn into pieces on rocks, dumping the eight passengers in the water. All of them were wearing lifejackets, but that did not prevent four from being pulled under the water and swept downstream. Other holidaymakers on a second raft, which was behind the first, hauled the survivors to safety.

The police spokesman confirmed that the stretch of rapids which included the whirlpool was a restricted area, where no boats were supposed to go. "The instructors were trying to take the rafts on to the river banks so that they would not enter that area," he said. "One raft was already on the bank, but the other could not get there and continued downstream. There was a safety rope across and above the river and they tried to throw a rope over it to stop the raft from going into the dangerous part of the river. But it broke and they were swept down into the whirlpool."

Airtours has set up an information line for concerned relatives (01706 909050).