Hope was fading fast last night for eight mountaineers missing near Mont Blanc after a powerful avalanche caused one of the deadliest accidents to hit the French Alps in decades.
More than 15 hours after a large chunk of ice broke off from the mountain and prompted the pre-dawn avalanche, five Austrian and three Swiss climbers had still not been recovered from the slopes of Mont Blanc du Tacul.
Seven other French and Italian climbers were injured when the avalanche swept down the mountain at 3am yesterday, hitting a path often frequented by groups heading for the summit of Mont Blanc, western Europe's highest peak. They were recovering in hospital.
Survivors spokes of a vast tract of ice moving silently but rapidly towards them, giving little time for escape.
"The guide shouted, 'Run fast! Run fast!'," said Nicolas Duquesne, who sustained a broken ankle. "It didn't make any noise. It really was impressive.
"We had just enough time to move away to the right before getting hit ... We were really lucky," said Duquesne, adding that he had to "swim" through the snow to get away. Another survivor, Italian guide Marco Delfini, said he saw "a wall of ice coming towards us and we were carried 200 metres."
Yesterday's disaster was the latest in a deadly season in the Alps. According to figures released last week, almost 100 people died this summer in the French, Italian and Swiss peaks, most of them in the Mont Blanc range.
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