Three people died and five others were missing after an avalanche in the French Alps engulfed a group of 10 school pupils and their teacher. 

The dead were reported to include a 14-year-old girl, another French teenager and a Ukrainian adult, who was not part of the school group.

They were skiing in Les Deux Alpes resort at 4pm local time (3pm GMT) when they were swept away by a 300m-wide bank of snow, the local Le Dauphiné Libéré newspaper reported.

A teacher and four children, all unconscious and in their early teens, were dug out by a mountain rescue team and taken to hospital by helicopter. Two of the injured were said to be critically ill.

A senior French official said all members of the school party appeared to have beeen accounted for but an unknown number of other skiers might have been buried. 

Jean-Paul Bonnetain, Prefect (senior national government administrator) for the Isère department said: "It seems that we have found all the school party but searches continue to make sure that there are no other victims.

The local mayor, Pierre Balme, said the party was skiing on a black (advanced) slope, closed to the public at the time because of a high risk of avalanches.

Rescue workers with dogs raced against time to try to locate five missing skiers before darkness fell. Three helicopters hovered overhead, equipped with search-lights and thermal imaging cameras which can locate bodies beneath thick snow.

Most of the dead, injured and missing were reported by local officials to come from from the Lycee Saint-Exupéry in Lyon.

The first prolonged and heavy snow falls of the winter have descended on the French Alps in recent days, and the presence of a large school party – and other skiers – on the closed Bellecombe slope at 2,600 metres altitude so late in the day angered mountain rescue workers.

One gendarme told a local radio station: “It is utterly irresponsible to take children on a closed slope when avalanche warnings are in place”.

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