French Alps avalanche: Five soldiers swept to their deaths in Savoie in latest Alpine tragedy

Around 50 military personnel are believed to have been taking part in an exercise when the avalanche struck at a ski resort near the Italian border

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The Independent Online

Five soldiers have been killed in the latest avalanche to hit the French Alps. 

Around 50 soldiers are believed to have been taking part in an exercise in an off-piste area at the time the avalanche struck at the ski resort of Valfrejus in Savoie near the Italian border.

The local newspaper reports that the soldiers were killed when the avalanche struck at around 2pm local time. 

Emergency services pulled eleven people from the snow - with five confirmed to have suffered serious injuries and they are being transferred to a hospital in Grenoble. 

At least two are believed to be suffering from hypothermia.

The five men who died are believed to have gone into cardiac arrest after they were rescued. 

A major rescue operation involving three helicopters, sniffer dogs and specialist mountain police is currently underway but it is currently not know whether any soldiers are missing. 

The soldiers, from the 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment based in Saint-Christol, were performing practice manoeurves on the Petit Argentier mountain when the incident occured.   

A member of the specialist mountain police told France Bleu the soliders had been climbing the mountain when the avalanche struck. 

They were taking part in a mountain warfare training exercise and were carrying an avalanche detection kit.

The avalanche occurred at the ski resort of Valfrejus near Savoie on the Italian border (file photo)

Major Herve Pujol from the mountain rescue team told BFM-TV: "For now the circumstances aren't very clear

"We're still trying to carry out the rescue and trying to count everyone in the area, to know if we still have people there who've been buried."

France's defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is expected to visit the ski resort - which has been closed so staff can help the rescue operation - tomorrow. 

The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, paid tribute to the soldiers on Twitter saying: "Our country is bereaved after the loss of five of our soldiers in the Alps. My thoughts are with the injuried, the families and their brothers in arms". 

The avalanche comes just days after two teenagers and one adult were killed by a separate avalanche on a school trip in the nearby resort of Les Deux Alpes.