Avalanche in French Alps Leaves Nine Dead, 4 Missing

PHOTO: Rescuers put climbers in body heat wraps after at least nine climbers died and nine were injured following an avalanche July 12, 2012 in the French Alps.PlayKlemen Gricar/Handout
WATCH Massive Avalanche Disaster in Alps

At least nine climbers died and nine were injured after an avalanche today in the French Alps that authorities called "the most deadly of recent years."

The four mountain climbers believed to be missing are now no longer considered so, as two had cancelled their climb and two had taken a different route to the summit, according to Lieutenant Emmanuel Vegas with the Chamonix police. Dozens of rescue workers, mountain dogs and guides were searching for those still unaccounted for on Mont Maudit, part of the Mont Blanc range.

Two helicopters and several dozen gendarmes, or military personnel, worked to pull the dead -- which reportedly included German, Swiss and Spanish citizens -- and the injured from the mountain. The injured were airlifted to a hospital.

By midday, the bodies of three British climbers, who were among the initial missing, had been recovered, according to authorities.

The European climbers were roped together in two separate groups as they attempted to climb the mountain, which is considered to be one of the most dangerous ascents in Europe amid the most lethal mountain range in the world.

Col. François Bertrand, commander of the gendarmerie of the Haute-Savoie, said today that he hoped those still missing were moving faster than the rest of the group, or possibly through another route, and managed to escape the avalanche.

"It is a climber that would have triggered the plate," Bertrand said."This does not mean that they are under the avalanche but we are extremely concerned for their safety."

Some 28 people were initially reported to be part of the mountaineering group, and they were from several countries, including Switzerland, Serbia, Germany, Spain, Britain and France. One of the injured sounded the alert at around 3:25 a.m. GMT after the avalanche struck.

A total of 11 people from the group were rescued and evacuated to the hospital Sallanches. Nine of them sustained minor injuries, while two escaped unscathed.

Mont Maudit, which translates to "cursed peak," is the area's third-highest peak, rising to an altitude of 14,650 feet.

The death toll in the Alps usually numbers about 100 per year.

Eight climbers -- three Swiss, one German, and four Austrian -- died August 2008 in a accident similar to today's on the nearby Mont Blanc du Tacul.