MOUNTAINEERING

Madrid firefighting chief among nine dead in Mont Blanc avalanche

Deadliest Alps snowslide since 2008 claims lives of two Spaniards

A rescue helicopter flying near Mont Blanc this morning.
A rescue helicopter flying near Mont Blanc this morning.GREGORY YETCHMENIZA/LE DAUPHINE (EFE)

Nine people, including two Spaniards, have been killed in an avalanche on Mont Maudit (the Cursed Mountain), one of the access routes to the peak of Mont Blanc, the Chamonix gendarmerie confirmed on Thursday.

The other fatalities were three Britons, three Germans and a Swiss. Nine further climbers were injured in the deadliest avalanche in the Alps since 2008, while four people – two British and two German -- remain unaccounted for. “The entire area where the avalanche struck has been searched,” said Colonel Bertrand François of the mountain unit of the gendarmerie. “Tomorrow we will resume the search if climatic conditions allow.”

One of the Spanish citizens killed was named as Joaquín Aguado, the chief of the Madrid regional mountain rescue firefighting unit. His climbing companion, Emilio Carrero, survived the accident, the Madrid regional government confirmed. Diplomatic sources said the second Spanish fatality had been identified and the Foreign Ministry was attempting to contact the deceased’s family.

Around 38 climbers were on the mountain when the avalanche struck at around 3am GMT, said François, including two separate climbing teams comprising 28 people as well as individuals. The alpinists were scaling the northern approach route, La Voie des Trois Monts, the second most-frequent ascent path after the Goûter Corridor route.

The mayor of Chamonix, Jean-Loius Verdier, said that weather conditions had been perfect on Thursday for summit attempts. “We had no more reason than usual to be alarmed,” he told Reuters. “It’s a steep mountain face. There are big plates of snow we know of where avalanches can easily occur. But this morning we had no reason to suspect an avalanche of this size, and such a tragedy.”

Early investigations suggest a climber may have triggered the avalanche accidentally. Météo France also reported strong winds of 60 to 70 kilometers per hour in the area on Thursday.

“The investigations will continue in difficult conditions of cold and ice to find those that have disappeared,” said French Interior Minister Manuel Valls. “But you are all well aware that the mountain does not always return its victims.”

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