GENEVA: An avalanche left four skiers injured on Tuesday (Feb 19) at a resort in the Swiss Alps where rescue operations went on after dark with police fearing people could still be trapped under the snow.
The authorities held a press conference to announce the injuries, including one person seriously hurt, after local reports said up to a dozen people were engulfed by the avalanche.
Police officers said that based on witness reports other skiers could still be buried and the search would continue into the night.
Swiss RTS television said the army had set up lighting to aid the 240 rescue workers at the site.
The police had earlier tweeted that several people were under the avalanche that hit early afternoon on a slope 2,600 metres up at Crans-Montana, which was busy with skiers during school holidays.
A local newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, had quoted the head of Crans-Montana's municipal government, Nicolas Feraud, as estimating that "between 10 and 12 people" were buried under the snow.
"We are shocked and hope for good news about these people," Feraud was quoted as saying.
A first attempt at locating victims using sniffer dogs was unsuccessful, a rescue worker told Le Nouvelliste, with four helicopters joining the search from the air.
Pierre Huguenin, of the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, described the snow in the area as damp and dense.
According to statistics from his institute, after 15 minutes under an avalanche, the chances of survival are no more than 50 per cent.
Le Nouvelliste said the avalanche swept over 300 to 400 metres of the lower section of the Kandahar piste.
It quoted rescue workers as saying the snow was compacted and more than two metres (seven feet) thick.
Crans-Montana's website had listed the risk of an avalanche at two on a scale that runs from one (lowest risk) to five.
As the victims were on a designated ski slope, they were unlikely to have detector equipment to help rescue workers locate them.
The vast majority of deadly avalanches in the Alpine nation hit people skiing off-piste.
"We don't know yet whether the avalanche detached by itself or was set off by skiers, or a rockfall," Swiss avalanche expert Robert Bolognesi told the daily 20 Minutes.