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‘Catastrophic’ fate of missing skiers

‘Catastrophic’ fate of missing skiers

Five of six cross-country skiers who went missing in the Swiss Alps over the weekend have been found dead, police confirmed Monday, with the search still on for the last person.

The group of skiers, aged 21 to 58 and including five members of the same family, left the luxury ski resort town of Zermatt Saturday with the goal of reaching the tiny village of Arolla later that day, but never arrived.

As a storm set in, the skiers went missing in the vicinity of the Tete-Blanche mountain, at an altitude of over 3,500 metres (11,480 feet) above sea level.

Among the victims were Marc Moix, a local police captain, and his cousins David and Jean-Vincent Moix.

A sixth person, Emilie Deschenaux, a friend of David and a law graduate, is still missing.

The weather conditions were “catastrophic”, with freezing temperatures and a significant avalanche risk, Christian Varone, head of Wallis cantonal police told reporters.

A person who had gone to pick up the group in Arolla sounded the alarm shortly after 4pm (1500 GMT) on Saturday.

An hour later, a member of the missing group managed to reach the rescue services by mobile phone, allowing them to pinpoint where to search for the skiers.

Varone said rescue workers had pulled out all the stops to try to reach them, but that the dire weather conditions had long prevented helicopters and teams of expert skiers and mountaineers from reaching the area.

“We were trying the impossible,” he said, adding that the mission had pushed its efforts “to the extreme, extreme limit”, but were forced to turn around to avoid “seriously endangering the lives of the rescue workers”.

“Sometimes you have to bow before nature.”

On Sunday, a team consisting of two rescue workers, a doctor and a mountain police officer, was finally able to be dropped off by helicopter nearby, police said.

“At around 9:20pm, it reached the Tete Blanche sector, where it discovered the bodies of five of the six people who were missing,” it said in a statement.

The search is meanwhile continuing for the last member of the group. “As long as there is hope we will keep going… while remaining realistic in view of the conditions this person has been in for the past 48 hours,” Varone said.

Police have yet to reveal the identities of those involved, only saying that the five family members were from Wallis canton and the sixth person from the canton of Fribourg.

Wallis lead prosecutor Beatrice Pilloud told reporters that an investigation had been launched to determine the circumstances surrounding the incident.