Avalanche kills at least 11

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The Independent Online

At least 11 apprentice ski instructors died and two were injured yesterday in an avalanche on the Kitzsteinhorn near the popular resort of Kaprun, south of Salzburg in Austria.

At least 11 apprentice ski instructors died and two were injured yesterday in an avalanche on the Kitzsteinhorn near the popular resort of Kaprun, south of Salzburg in Austria.

More than 150 alpine rescuers, supported by 20 dogs and five helicopters, were searching for survivors last night on icy terrain 9,600ft high. Up to five more people were still feared buried.

There had been only a low-level avalanche warning when the group set off in light drizzle. The skiers,were going off piste, heading towards the Mühlbach valley below.

The rain and the subsequent sunshine loosened the glacier's snow cover and the cascading snow cut a path 500ft wide. Local officials did not rule out the possibility that the victims had inadvertently set off the avalanche themselves.

One trainee told Austrian state television that the slide was caused by an instructor whose skis set loose a wall of snow. However, other reports said two snowboarders had apparently started the avalanche and might have been among those killed.

Emergency services were alerted by one woman in the group, who escaped unhurt, and was able to make contact on a mobile telephone. Help arrived at the scene within minutes. Nine helicopters ferried rescuers to the isolated site and then carried the dead to the village of Niedernsill, about 10km (seven miles) from Kaprun.

Although the dead were originally described as all German, local officials said late last night that six were Austrian, two Finnish, one Danish, one Slovakian and one Belgian.

The accident was the worst Alpine disaster to hit Austria since 38 people were killed in two separate avalanches in one day at the resorts of Galtuer and Valzur in February last year.

The Kaprun/Zell am See ski area has some 130km of mostly intermediate ski runs and can cater for around 14,000 tourists. Avalanche warnings have been in force in many Alpine regions in recent weeks. The area around Kaprun was on level two of the five-tier warning system.

At the end of December, nine German skiers were killed in an avalanche near the Tyrolean resort of Galtuer.

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