It is shaping up to be one of the deadliest accidents in years on the Mont Blanc massif in the French Alps. In the early morning hours of Thursday, an avalanche struck a large number of climbers high on the slopes of Mont Maudit, a 4,465 meter (14,650 foot) mountain that forms a shoulder of Mont Blanc. At least nine climbers were killed. Another four climbers remain missing.
While there have been conflicting reports on the nationalities of those who lost their lives, news reports have indicated that climbers from Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Serbia and France were among those caught in the avalanche. The Foreign Ministry in Berlin confirmed early Thursday afternoon that three Germans died in the incident. Efforts are ongoing to find those still missing.
According to reports, two groups with as many as 28 climbers were caught in the avalanche. The first alert reached mountain rescue officials in nearby Chamonix at 5:25 a.m. The mayor of Chamonix, which is a favorite base for mountaineers in the summer and skiers in the winter, told the news agency AFP that there were no avalanche warnings in effect at the time of the accident.
Mont Maudit, which can be translated as "Cursed Mountain," has a common route followed during ascents of Mont Blanc. At 4,810 meters (15,780 feet), it is the highest mountain in the Alps. Mountain rescue teams immediately launched efforts to evacuate the injured and search for the missing. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said he was heading to Chamonix on Thursday.
The Mont Blanc massif is notoriously dangerous, due primarily to the large numbers of climbers from Europe and further afield who attempt to reach the summit each year.
While reliable statistics are difficult to come by, annual fatalities on the peak often run into the dozens. Thursday's avalanche was the deadliest event since 2008, when eight climbers lost their lives in late August. That summer almost 100 people died in accidents in the French, Swiss and Italian Alps, and most of them were killed on the Mont Blanc massif.
cgh -- with wire reports
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