Avalanche kills five Czech skiers in Austrian Alps

A large avalanche in the Austrian Alps killed five skiing enthusiasts from the Czech Republic on Saturday and injured two, investigators in the city of Innsbruck said.

The injured were not in a life-threatening condition. The remaining members of the 17-strong tour group were uninjured.

The snow buried the whole group, all Czech nationals on a skiing holiday near the Innsbruck, which is the capital of the Tyrol region, when the avalanche hit at 12:45 pm (1145 GMT).

The group, all experienced skiers, had been warned of the heightened risk of avalanches before they went up the mountain.

The Czech skiers were in two groups on a steep slope on the way up the 2,800-metre high Geier mountain when they were struck by the avalanche, which police said was several hundreds metres wide and equally long.

The scene of the accident is a training area for the Austrian Army that is also used by ski tour groups, ORF broadcaster reported.

The avalanche occurred near the village of Wattenburg some 25 kilometres from Innsbruck in the west of Austria.

The well-equipped group has returned to the Lizumer alpine association hut in the Tux Alps for many years, owner Anton Nigg told dpa. He said the group consisted of 15 men and two women.

"I told my guests that I would not go today," Nigg said, adding that he posts an avalanche report every day and also talks to every skier about the possible dangers.

The risk of avalanches in Tyrol on Saturday was significant at level three on the five-point hazard scale. There had been snow slips the whole day in the popular skiing region near the German border.

Martin Waldhart of mountain rescue said at a press conference that the group had been in an "absolute risk zone."

Another skier had seen the avalanche from a distance and alerted the emergency services. Investigators were looking into whether the Czechs had caused the avalanche themselves.

Rescue teams used specially trained dogs and four helicopters as part of the operation. Some of the skiers had managed to free themselves before the rescue workers arrived.

There was also a heightened risk of avalanches in the German Alps, according to the avalanche warning service in the city of Munich. An individual skier or snowboarder could set one off above 2,000 metres. The situation was made worse by mild temperatures during the day and strong sunshine, the service warned.

Last update: Sun, 07/02/2016 - 00:03
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