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Trapped by weather Alpine ski-hiking accident claims seven victims

The hikers were forced to spend the night on the 3,000-metre Arolla peak in the open

An unexpected snowstorm forced the hikers to spend the night out in the open on the 3,000-metre Arolla.

(Keystone)

Seven people – six Italians and one Bulgarian – have died in the Swiss Alps after bad weather on Monday forced them to spend a night outdoors.

Valais cantonal police reported the death of the seventh victim, an Italian woman, on Wednesday afternoon, three days after the group of ski hikers initially became stranded. 

Two others – a Swiss man and a French woman – are still in serious condition, but their lives are no longer in danger, police said. Five additional people are being treated for hypothermia, and are also out of danger. 

One survivor, Tommaso Piccioli, described on Wednesday how he was forced to keep moving throughout the night, in order to keep his heart pumping and stave off hypothermia.

The 14 people were on their way to the Vignettes mountain hut on Sunday in the region above Arolla at 3,157 metres between the Pigne d'Arolla and Mont Collon in the southwest of the country. 

They were caught off-guard by high winds, snow and icy cold temperatures and were forced to spend the night outdoors, according to a police spokesman.

A major rescue operation, including seven helicopters, was launched in the area early on Monday before the hikers were found.

Several of them had hypothermia, while one victim is said to have died as a result of a fall, according to police. They were flown to hospitals for treatment.

map

Map of lower Valais and France

A preliminary investigation found that the victims were part of two groups of ski hikers, including a guide, who were blocked by a sudden thunderstorm.

The hikers were crossing from Chamonix (France) to the Swiss mountain resort of Zermatt on the classic 180km long Haute Route along the Italian border.

It leads across mountains and glaciers at about 2,450 to 3,560 metres altitude over six days.

Deadly conditions 

The Arolla hikers were not the only ones who paid the ultimate price for venturing into the Valais mountains. 

A French couple was exploring the Saas-Fee region on Monday when they were swept away by a snow drift, cantonal police said on Tuesday. The woman managed to free herself from the snow but the man died in hospital after being extracted by rescuers on Monday evening. 

Two Swiss men who were attempting to climb the Mönch also lost their lives. They were reported missing on Sunday and their bodies were found on Monday morning. Both were in the early twenties. 

swissinfo.ch with SDA-ATS, Reuters, DPA


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