Avalanche in French Alps engulfs school group: Two pupils and skier dead
An avalanche in the French Alps has engulfed dozens of people including school pupils and a teacher, killing at least three people, seriously injuring five.
French police are now reporting that searches are ongoing for up to 20 people believed to be missing.
Citing local police, the regional Dauphine Libere newspaper is reporting that four of the students were found in cardiac arrest and the teacher was unconscious.
French media said that two of the people who died in the accident were young teenagers travelling with a school group of 10 students and one teacher. One victim has been confirmed as a 14-year-old girl.
The third victim has been confirmed as a Ukrainian national who was not with the school group.
It is understood the group are from the Lyon area of France.
Venosc mayor Pierre Balme told the paper the avalanche occurred on a closed ski run.
French president Francois Hollande has sent his condolences to those close to the victims.
In a statement on Wednesday evening he said the French education minister is on his way to Lyon. He is expected to arrive in the coming hours to "support the school community and the families".
Searches are continuing this evening after the accident in the Deux Alpes region at approximately 3pm local time, according to BFM TV.
BBC's Tim Rhodes tweeted that he witnessed one person being recovered from the snow.
Rescue helicopters and sniffer dogs are currently assisting search teams.
The school group were skiing when they were swept away by the avalanche at 3pm local time.
The incident took place near the Bellecombes slope in the French alps, south west of Grenoble.
It is believed the slope the group were skiing on was graded as a 'black' slope, which is the steepest rating.
Paris Correspondent with The Independent John Lichfield told RTE Six One this evening the avalanche is understood to have been 'three football pitches wide'.
"This is a closed slope, closed because of the danger there after the first snowfall of the year," he said.
"No one should have been on the slope, let alone a school party of 11 people.
"Three helicopters are hovering over the scene using cameras to detect heat from under the snow.
"It is not looking hopeful at this stage that they will find anyone who will be presumed fine.
"I am not sure of this group's skiing ability but it was a group of young teenagers, boys and girls aged 13 and 14 years old.
"One of the reasons it is very difficult to locate the missing people is because the avalanche is believed to have been three football pitches wide," he continued.
"With this particular distance a lot of rocks came down also and this area would be extraordinarily deep.
"It is absolutely incomprehensible that a group will head down this slope at ten to four in the afternoon, with darkness about the fall, and to be so high on what were closed black-graded slopes."
Local authorities have warned people to be aware of the high avalanche risk in the area at the moment.
Due to recent weather conditions and a low snowfall over Christmas, which causes an unstable base for recent snowfall, the area currently has a 4/5 avalanche risk rating.
More to follow...