Plane flying from Britain crashes in alps

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The Independent Online

The dead bodies of a family believed to live in Britain were found in the French Alps today after the plane they were travelling in crashed into the side of a mountain.

The family, thought to be a couple and their child, were discovered at the crash scene this morning after mountain rescue teams searched through the night.

An American passport belonging to the pilot was found with the plane and indicated he had lived or worked in Britain for around six years, according to French officials.

The plane left Shoreham Airport in West Sussex, where it was based, yesterday and the family of three was flying to Cannes in the French Riviera.

Gilles Barsacq, secretary general of the prefecture in the Alpine Isere region of France, said they were believed to be American originally but living in Britain.

They died instantly when the plane lost control in a snow storm as it flew over the French Alps and slammed into the side of a mountain in the Grand Veymont area.

Mr Barsacq said the pilot contacted air traffic control at around 2pm to say he was in trouble, but that the twin-engine plane disappeared from radar screens moments later.

Rescue helicopters were immediately scrambled to try and locate it, but struggled in the weather conditions and could not begin a proper search until later that evening.

The operation, involving up to 100 men and at least five helicopters, lasted through the night and into this morning.

A mountain rescue team, who had set out on foot wearing snow shoes to cope with the snowfall of around 20cm, eventually found the plane at just before midday today.

It appeared to have hit a rock face and broken apart on impact, killing all three on board instantly, Mr Barsacq said.

He added that the bodies were of a man, woman and child but could not give any more details about their age or nationality, other than to say the pilot had an American passport.

The Foreign Office confirmed a search had been launched after a light aircraft travelling from Shoreham to Cannes disappeared from radar screens and three bodies had now been found.

A spokeswoman said one body was confirmed to be that of a US citizen, while the nationalities of the other two victims were still unknown. The group appeared to be a couple and child, she added.

Chrystelle Aubert, at the Prefecture de L'Isere, said rescue teams discovered the crash site at 11.55am this morning in the Grand Veymont area of the Alps.

It was found at an altitude of 1960m, on a very steep and difficult to reach section of the mountain, Mme Aubert explained.

She added that the cause of the crash was still unknown but that an investigation was in progress. She was also unable to give any details about the casualties.

A spokeswoman for Shoreham Airport said the aircraft had been based there but could not say if the family lived nearby.

The American Embassy in Paris were not available for comment.