Victims found after Alps avalanche

Rescuers today found the bodies of five French ski-mountaineers swept away by an avalanche during an excursion in Italy's north-western Alps.

The bodies were spotted by a helicopter shortly after dawn following a suspension of the search overnight because of darkness and bad weather, said officials in the cities of Aosta and Turin.

The group was overrun by the avalanche yesterday afternoon at an altitude of about 2,500 meters (8,000 feet) while traveling through the Gran Paradiso National Park, an Alpine area north of Turin and near the French border.

The group's guide, also a French citizen, was pulled from the snow Wednesday evening after being spotted by a helicopter, said Claudio Rosset, an Alpine rescue official in Aosta.

At the time the guide's condition did not appear serious and he had been hospitalized in Aosta, Rosset said.

The five bodies were spotted at a bottom of a gorge and had been dragged down some 150 meters (500 feet) by the avalanche, said Massimo De Michela, a rescue official in Turin.

Rescuers were using the helicopter to retrieve the bodies. No details on their identities were immediately available, De Michela said.

The mass of snow descended on the group from Punta Basei, a 3,300-meter (10,000-foot) peak. Fresh snow had recently fallen on the mountain and the unstable mass is believed to have caused the avalanche, De Michela told The Associated Press by telephone from Turin.

He said rescue efforts began after owners of the lodge where the group was supposed to spend the night raised the alarm Wednesday. The six mountaineers were hiking more than 12 kilometers (7 miles) between two mountain lodges in the Gran Paradiso massif, straddling Italy's Piedmont and Valle d'Aosta regions.

"It's a beautiful hike," De Michela said. "It's a pity it ended so badly."

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