10 die in Alps as rain and sun put down a lethal layer of ice

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The Independent Online

A lethal layer of ice laid down overnight in northern Italy's Alps sent at least 10 people sliding to their deaths yesterday. Victims included four climbers who died one by one trying to rescue a dog, and then each other.

A lethal layer of ice laid down overnight in northern Italy's Alps sent at least 10 people sliding to their deaths yesterday. Victims included four climbers who died one by one trying to rescue a dog, and then each other.

Rescuers struggled to reach the victims on the icy slopes, said Guido Villa, the emergency aid director in the Alpine town of Lecco, near the Austrian border. Crews had to use helicopters to retrieve some of the injured and dead.

Yesterday had offered a sunny morning after a spell of rain, and the weather is thought to have tempted some people into the mountains when conditions were too dangerous.

A "strange, nonsensical winter" with early snow followed by rain and sun apparently has made for dangerously deceiving conditions in the southern Alps, with almost invisible ice covering even the holds, said Cesare Maestri, 72, one of Italy's most respected Alpine veterans.

"The cold weather on Saturday and today may have frozen a thin layer of water on mountain paths. It happens often that water becomes an almost invisible layer of ice... it is very dangerous," he said.

Yesterday's worst accident happened on Mount Arera near Bergamo, 30 miles east of Milan, where the four male climbers died. Giancarlo Stefani, the emergency services medical director in Bergamo, said the new ice there was too thin for climbers' spiked boots to get a solid hold. One of the climbers tried to rescue a dog that was in trouble, and fell. His companions died in subsequent rescue attempts. The four men were all Italians.

Another Italian man died climbing a nearby mountain for a ski run down. Onlookers lost sight of him but saw his skis fly into the air without him. Helicopters later recovered his body, Mr Stefani said.

Five other people died in accidents on Alpine peaks around Lecco, all of them climbers dying singly or in pairs. A rescue crew flying a victim - who later died - to a hospital in Lecco spotted yet another body in a crevice. At least four other people were injured.

Dozens of people die in accidents in the Alps each year, most in avalanches. According to figures released by Italy's Alpine Club, there were some 4,800 mountain accidents in Italy in 1999, a slight increase on the toll from the previous year. (AP)

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