UK & World News
Avalanche: Three Britons Among Nine Dead
Three Britons were among nine people killed in the "most deadly avalanche of recent years" in the Alps' Mont Blanc massif.
The bodies of three Germans, one Swiss and two Spaniards, along with the Britons, were recovered following the disaster on Mont Maudit, which translates as 'Cursed Mountain' and is the massif's third-highest peak.
One of the Britons was named as Roger Payne, a former General Secretary of the British Mountaineering Council.
"Roger was one of the UK's most enthusiastic and respected climbers with a track record of Alpine and Himalayan mountaineering stretching back to the 1980s," it said in a statement. "Our thoughts are with Roger's friends and family - in particular his wife Julie-Ann."
Two Britons and two Spaniards reported missing following the tragedy were later discovered to be alive.
Emmanuel Vegas, a lieutenant with Chamonix police, said the two Britons had started out for the summit of Mont Blanc - Western Europe's highest peak - but turned around before the avalanche.
And the two Spaniards "resold their spots in the refuge to two other Spaniards who unfortunately died in the avalanche."
Climbers from Switzerland, Germany, Spain, France, Denmark and Serbia and the UK were believed set off from Refuge des Cosmiques at about 3am local time (2am UK time).
The accident is thought to have happened between 5.30am and 6am (4.30am and 5am UK time) at about 4,000m (13,100ft) high on the north face of Mont Maudit.
Officials said a block of ice around 16in (40cm)-thick broke off and slid down the slope, creating a two-metre (6ft)-thick, 50m (160ft)-long mass of snow.
Several dozen gendarmes and other rescuers using helicopters and dogs worked to pull the dead and 15 injured from the mountain.
French interior minister Manuel Valls paid tribute to those taking part in the rescue effort.
"I admire their drive and the difficult conditions in which they have been working - they're quite perilous as you know," he told reporters.
He said large chunks of ice could be seen around the area where the rescuers were working.
Chamonix-based mountain guide Richard Mansfield said the route where the accident happened was the second most popular to the top of Mont Blanc, and it was not unusual to have 100 people a day use it.
He said: "It's a very beautiful area and a common route but it can have very serious consequences, particularly due to avalanches."
Mr Mansfield, who runs mountainadventureguides.co.uk, said the slopes on Mont Maudit faces away from the prevailing wind which means snow is pushed over forming slabs.
"These can easily be set off by a passing climber, causing an avalanche."
Colonel Bertrand Francois, of the Haute-Savoie gendarme service, said early reports suggested that a climber had indeed accidentally loosened a sheet of ice, which "pulled down the group of climbers below". He said: "I should say that the incline was very, very steep on this northern face."
:: Anyone concerned about friends or family following the avalanche can call the Foreign Office on +33 (0)1 44 51 31 00 or 0207 008 1500 in the UK.