A climber trying to scale Mont Blanc may have accidentally caused a slab of ice to snap off Thursday high in the French Alps, sparking an avalanche that swept nine climbers to their deaths and injured a dozen.
Two climbers were rescued as crews using dogs and helicopters scoured the high-altitude area in a frantic search for the missing.
Three Britons, three Germans, two Spaniards and one Swiss climber were known to have died, the prefecture of the Haute-Savoie region said.
The dead included the former general secretary of the British Mountaineering Council, Roger Payne, the council said on its website. He was one of Britain's most notable climbers and had made trips from the Alps to the Himalayas.
Among the dozen injured was an American. Two missing climbers were later accounted for; they had turned back before the avalanche.
Early summer storms apparently left behind heavy snow that combined with high winds to form dangerous overhangs on some of the climbing routes around Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe.
Mont Blanc is popular among climbers and hikers but dangerous; dozens die there each year.
Police said they were alerted around 5:25 a.m. Thursday to the avalanche, which hit the climbers who were 13,100 feet high on the north face of Mont Maudit, part of the Mont Blanc range.
A climber appeared to have loosened a block of ice 16 inches thick that broke off and slid down the slope, creating a mass of snow that was 6 feet deep and 328 feet long, said Col. Bertrand Franois of the Haute-Savoie police.
Jonas Moestrup, of the Danish city of Randers, heard about the accident as he was on his way down from Mont Blanc.
"Three days ago, we ascended it (Mont Maudit). It was shocking to hear. It could easily have been us," he said. "It's part of the thrill that something can go wrong."
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