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Austrians return home after avalanche tragedy

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Austrians return home after avalanche tragedy
The avalanche occurred in the Dauphiné Alps. Photo: Guillaume Piolle
10:19 CEST+02:00
A group of Austrian skiers are returning home on Friday after being caught in a massive avalanche in the French Alps which claimed the lives of three of their tour group.

Two young Austrians and an Italian from South Tyrol, aged between 20 and 24 years old, died after being swept away in the snow when the avalanche hit the Alpine Ecrins National Park in south eastern France on Wednesday.

A third Austrian from Tyrol is in a coma and remains in a critical condition in hospital in Grenoble.

Two Austrian mountain guides were briefly detained on Thursday afternoon but they were released that evening.

The Austrian Alpine Club (ÖAV), which organised the tour in the French Alps, said that both guides were experienced and certified mountain guides, one from Tyrol and one from Styria. They are both returning to Austria on Friday with the seven avalanche survivors.

ÖAV president Andreas Ermacora said that it was “common procedure” in France that people can be briefly detained on suspicion of negligent homicide.

"Every effort necessary is being made to ensure the survivors have a speedy journey home. We are also working with the Tyrolean Air Ambulance to bring home the bodies of the deceased," the ÖAV said in a press release.

The area is known for off-piste skiing, which means adventurous skiers have to hike up the mountain in order to ski down. The area has received heavy snow this week.

However, Georg Rothwangl from the ÖAV said that it was “ a conventional ski tour” and a “classic Spring route for Easter”. He added that even if the route had been high and steep it was “nothing extreme”.

Experts have said the avalanche was most likely triggered by strong winds which knocked loose a heavy snow shelf.

The avalanche risk on Wednesday was between level 2 and 3 on a scale of 5, and therefore the ski group would not have thought they were in significant danger.

Meanwhile in the Austrian Alps the avalanche risk is high after new snowfall, making off piste skiing particularly dangerous.

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