More than 60 people have been mobilised in a search-and-rescue operation BMTV
More than 60 people have been mobilised in a search-and-rescue operation BMTV

Schoolchildren caught up in deadly avalanche

Three dead - two schoolchildren, one Ukrainian skier
One in critical condition, one seriously injured
Police say group should not have been on 'closed slope'

At least three people have died and three more seriously injured after an avalanche in the French Alps. 

The group was skiing in Les Deux Alpes resort when the disaster occured at 4pm local time (3pm).

Five people were still missing two hours later, police told iTele.

Local media said the black slope had been closed to skiers at the time of Wednesday's avalanche.

Four people have already died in the French Alps since the start of January - two Lithuanians, a Spaniard and a Czech.The latest from John Lichfield, our correspondent in France:

A senior French official later said all members of the school party appeared to have beeen accounted for but an unknown number of other skiers might have been buried.

Jean-Paul Bonnetain, Prefect (senior national goernment administrator) for the Isère department said: "It seems that we have found all the school party but searches continue to make sure that there are no other victims."

More than 60 people have been mobilised in a search-and-rescue operation, with sniffer dogs and several helicopters.

Three people have been reported dead by the Isere prefecture - two French schoolchildren and a Ukranian skier.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls expressed his sadness in a tweet about the accident.

Here's an update from John Lichfield, our correspondent in France:

The local mayor, Pierre Balme, said that a school party from Lyon was swept away at 3.50pm while skiing on a black (advanced) slope closed to the public because of a high risk of avalanches.

The first prolonged and heavy snow falls of the winter have descended on the French Alps in recent days.

Rescue workers with dogs raced against time last night to try to locate five missing skiers before darkness fell. Three helicopters hovered overhead, equipped with search-lights and thermic cameras which can locate bodies beneath thick snow.

Rescue workers told the local newspaper, Le Dauphiné Liberé that their colleagues were faced with a deep layer of snow and rock from the avalanche which hampered their searches. 

Most of the dead, injured and missing were reported by local officials to come from from the Lycee Saint-Exupéry in Lyon.

The presence of a large school party - and other skiers - on the closed Bellecombe slope at 2,600 metres altitude  so late in the day angered mountain rescue workers.

One gendarme told a local radio station: "It is incomprehensible to take children on a closed slope when avalanche warnings are in place".

The group is from Saint-Exupéry High School, Lyon, Le Monde reports.

French police say of the three injured, two are students and one is the teacher.

According to the police, one of the dead is a skier found with Ukrainian identity papers, who did not belong to the group.

The other is a 14-year-old, but there are conflicting reports as to whether they are male or female.

Yesterday, a representative for the BASS Ski School 2 Alpes released a video about the avalanche risk on the slopes.

He says: "The ski area took a long time to open up today because the avalanche risk was massive because we've got huge accumulations of snow and high winds up there."

He goes on to explain that Bellecombe, the black ski slope where local media reports the group were skiing, took a long time to open up yesterday.