Three killed as avalanche engulfs skiers on 'closed' piste
An avalanche that struck a school group skiing in the Alps has killed two French high school students and a Ukrainian skier.
The avalanche in the Deux Alpes resort on Wednesday afternoon hit 10 students from the Saint Exupery school in Lyon and their teacher. They did not give any information on the number of missing but said 60 rescue workers have been mobilised in a search-and-rescue operation with sniffer dogs and a helicopter.
The prefect of the Isere region told BFM-TV that the ski trail was so risky it had been closed since the "beginning of the (ski) season" in December.
Jean-Paul Bonnetain said that the group leader "had taken the initiative" to lead the school group onto this piste.
He said that the trail "was really of a technical level" that is not suitable for beginners or students aged between 16 and 17.
French police commander Bertrand Host told BFM television that there had been an avalanche warning in the area before the snow slide.
The avalanche struck late on Wednesday afternoon.
The regional Dauphine Libere newspaper is reporting that four students were found in cardiac arrest and the teacher was unconscious.
Venosc mayor Pierre Balme told the paper the avalanche happened on a closed ski run.
French president Francois Hollande has sent his condolences to those close to the victims. In a statement 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''.
Local councillor Gilles Strappazzon told BFM the avalanche happened after several groups of skiers dislodged a large snow slab. The area had been closed off prior to the accident amid high avalanche warnings and it is unclear why the group ventured on to the ski trail.
There had been little snow in the Alps until just after the New Year, so January's steady snow was fresh and possibly less stable.