CRANS-MONTANA, Switzerland (Reuters) – A large avalanche buried skiers on a busy slope of the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana on Tuesday and injured four people, including one whose life is in danger, but there are no known deaths far, officials said.
The avalanche site is depicted in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, February 19, 2019. Police Cantonale Valaisanne / Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS PICTURE was provided by one-third
Eight helicopters, 12 dogs and more 240 police, rescuers and soldiers worked to find more people enclosed in the snow while the night fell.
"The rescuers arrived very quickly on the spot, they rescued four wounded people, including one whose life is in danger, and three were injured more shallowly," Valais cantonal police officer Christian Varone told a news conference.
"Witnesses told us that there could be more people buried under the snow, so we are trying the search with significant means."
He said the avalanche was 840 meters long and 100 meters wide with 400 meters of heavy snow hitting the piste.
Frederic Favre, head of the Valais Police and Justice Department, said no one was known to have been killed.
Formerly, Nouvelliste, a local newspaper, quoted municipal president Nicolas Feraud as saying 10-12 people believed to be trapped.
The avalanche in the afternoon came after a week of warmer temperatures began to melt heavy snow. But the Swiss institute for snow and avalanche research said the danger to the area had only been on level two on a scale of five on Tuesday.
Prosecutor Catherine Seppey said an investigation had been opened. "There are two hypotheses. The first is that several skiers lower the avalanche. The second hypothesis is that it was a spontaneous avalanche due to climatic conditions, and in that case it would be a matter of determining responsibility and problems with safety. "she said.
Philippe Magistretti, president of the Crans-Montana ski lift company, told Reuters by phone that the army personnel in town had joined the rescue operation.
"The amount of snow is incredible, two meters deep and 300 meters long. It is a spring avalanche that is very compact," quoted Nouvelliste as an unnamed rescue worker. Rescue dogs had not found any during a first search, he added.
Lavine coincided with school holidays in some cantons, including Geneva, as well as abroad. Britain's Blackheath High School tweeted that all its students on a ski trip in the area were safe.
The resort is scheduled to host two World Cup races during this weekend.
Marius Robyr, who was responsible for arranging the races, was quoted in Tuesday's Tribune de Geneve before the avalanche, saying it was 1 to 1.5 meters of snow on the La National ski piste. He said it was closed to tourists prior to the training sessions and downhill and combined races.
"Our only" enemy is the sun, "he said.
Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Tom Miles and Marina Depetris, written by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing Janet Lawrence and Alison Williams