Climbers had been roped in three different groups when the avalanche struck, said Hautes Alpes Prefect Pierre Besnard, the Associated Press reported. The avalanche struck the 4,000-meter (or 13,000 feet) snow dome of the Ecrin massif, a popular attraction for climbers as it doesn’t require high-level skills.
Helicopters, rescuers, dogs and doctors were all deployed as part of the emergency response, officials said.
Tuesday’s death toll makes the avalanche one of the single deadliest in the French Alps in recent years. In 2012, nine climbers died and 11 others injured in the Mount Blanc avalanche that occurred during the summer climbing season.
AFP, citing France’s National Association for the Study of Snow and Avalanches, reports that 39 people in France have died this year due to snowslides.
Police official Christian Flagella told AFP that Tuesday’s avalanche came during “winter-line conditions” that created a layer of snow that separated and fell.