Avalanches kill four after thaw

Ski-mountaineers die after being swept away by snow while swimmer and surfer die in beach accidents

FOUR people died in avalanches in the Alps and two were drowned in the Gironde as the first spring weather took people to the slopes and beaches.

The average temperature in France was 24C with Dax hitting 31C and the sudden return of the sun and hot weather after a very cold March saw people sun-bathing in Paris, hitting the beaches round the coasts and taking to the mountains for a break. But the accident toll was high.

Three ski-mountaineers were killed in Savoie when a slab of snow carried them 600m down the side of the Dent Parrachée in the Vanoise.

A group of six aged between 23 and 56 had spent the night in a refuge at 3,600m before heading out across the south face of the mountain early on Sunday morning when the snow broke away.

The area was on orange avalanche alert due to the risk of the thaw causing snow to break up but their route was well-used by ski-mountaineers, who use special skins on the bottom of their skis to climb uphill.

On Saturday a 60-year-old ski-mountaineer was killed in an avalanche in Champsaur (Hautes-Alpes) at 2,000m.

Since the start of the winter 32 people have died in avalanches and the prefectures in Hautes-Alpes and Haute-Savoie warned people to take extreme care in the mountains.

A surfer and a swimmer died in separate incidents in the Gironde as beaches on the west coast were crowded as people enjoying the first real sunny weekend of the year.

The surfer, a 36-year-old, is thought to have had a heart attack off Lacanau-Océan and was pulled from the water by nearby swimmers.

Later, about 15km to the south, three swimmers got into difficulties, being carried out to sea by an undertow. A 22 year old woman drowned and another had to be taken to hospital in Arès in serious condition. Three swimmers aged 13, 16 and 26 were also rescued at Lacanau-Océan after a rip-tide took them out to sea.

Rescue teams warned holiday-makers to take care as temperatures hit 28C on some beaches because there were also large waves.