Two of the three people who died after an avalanche in the Scottish Highlands were RAF personnel, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed.
The three were airlifted from the Chalamain Gap area of the Cairngorms to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary shortly after 12.30pm yesterday.
A man and a woman died last night and another man died in the early hours of this morning, Northern Constabulary said.
An MoD spokesman said: “MoD can confirm that two RAF personnel were killed following an avalanche in the Cairngorms yesterday.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those who have lost their lives. Next of kin have been informed.
“We would ask the media to respect the privacy of the families concerned at this difficult time.”
Police, Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team, search and rescue dogs, RAF Lossiemouth's rescue team and a helicopter were involved in the operation yesterday.
Two parties of six were on the mountain when the avalanche struck, with nine people able to walk off unhurt.
David Rutledge, the training officer for Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team, was involved in controlling the operation from the team's base.
He said: “We started mobilising within 15 minutes of the call coming through.
“We had a helicopter here incredibly quickly. We had three doctors available straightaway who were able to get to the scene.
“This was a fairly contained scenario. We were able to deal with an incident which was relatively close to the roadside, within 2km of the ski road and in a very contained area.
“From that perspective, no search was necessary. The key aspect to this was to get people there as quickly as possible.”
Two helicopters from RAF Lossiemouth, Rescue 137 and 138, were involved in the operation, he said.
He added: “Snow conditions would have been affected massively by the weather we've had over the last few days, but, significantly, temperatures were increasing throughout the day and that will have had an effect on what was going on.
“Wind speeds were quite high and all of those things have a contributing factor to the snow conditions.”
It is the third serious avalanche in Scotland this year.
Doctor Rachel Majumdar, 29; PhD student Tom Chesters, 28; Christopher Bell, 24, also a PhD student; and 25-year-old junior doctor Una Finnegan died after they were caught up in an avalanche in Glencoe on January 19.
Two weeks ago three men survived being swept 150 metres by snow in the Coire an t-Sneachda area of the Cairngorms.
The men, who were wearing helmets, were airlifted to hospital with one man suffering two broken ankles.
Other accidents in the region have caused further fatalities. Earlier this week, a hillwalker died during an expedition with a mountaineering club in the Cairngorms.
Graham Connell, 31, from Castleford, West Yorkshire, was found dead in the Jacob's Ladder area on Monday, following a large-scale search for him and five other people who were reported overdue on Sunday afternoon.
On January 26, 22-year-old Ben St Joseph, from Essex, died after falling about 100 metres from Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis.
Last night Scotland's First Minister expressed his sadness at the latest fatal incident in the Highlands.
Alex Salmond said: “My thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends of those who have sadly been killed in this tragic accident.
“I'd also like to thank all those involved in the rescue effort and the medical staff who are treating the injured.
“This is another stark and tragic reminder of the dangers on our mountains.
“They are one of the most beautiful places on earth but they can also be inherently dangerous with treacherous and changeable conditions.”
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