Valfrejus, France – Five members of the French Foreign Legion have been killed in an avalanche on Monday while they were on a training exercise in the Alps, officials say. Other six soldiers are severely injured. French officials have confirmed the deaths.

The avalanche happened in early afternoon in Valfrejus in the department of Savoie, near the Italian border and caught a 50-member unit, which included both new recruits and veterans, by surprise. The group of soldiers was skiing off-piste as an all-day ski session when the avalanche descended down the mountain.

The unit, the 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment stationed at Saint-Christol and training at the country’s national center for mountain warfare in Modane, was skiing on the mountain Petit Argentier, at about 7,200 feet above sea level when the incident happened.

french alps military killed
Search helicopters and dogs have been scrambled to look for the soldiers. This comes just one week after three tourists were killed by an avalanche, just 80 miles away. The soldiers were among a group of around 50 soldiers who were skiing near a resort of Valfrejus, which is 200km of Geneva. Credits: Breaking911

The rescue operation involved helicopters, rescue dogs, doctors and specialist mountain police. The soldiers carried avalanche detection systems and the resort has been closed to simplify the rescue effort.

Major Herve Pujol from the CRS rescue team said that for the moment the circumstances weren’t very clear. The nationalities of the victims were not immediately known.

“We’re still trying to carry out the rescue and trying to count everyone in the area, to know if we still have people there who’ve been buried.” He added.

The French Foreign Legion was set up in 1831 to recruit foreign nationals to serve in the French armed forces. Those who result injured in convent for France can apply for French citizenship. It was mainly used in battles for the French colonial empire in 19th Century and it currently has about 7,700 members.

Several have passed away due to avalanche incidents in the French Alps. According to Anena, a French avalanche research organization, at least 45 people died in snow slides during the 2014-15 winter season. So far, seven people had been killed and 7 other have been injured in 2016. For instance, just a few days ago, on January 13th two teenagers and a Ukrainian adult skier died because of an avalanche nearby.

Back in 2012 the unit experienced a similar tragedy when five members of the 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment were also swept away by a mortal snow slide killing one of them.

The deadliest avalanche in France’s history occurred in 1970 when 39 people were killed when an avalanche at the Val d’Isere ski resort hit their chalet.

Source: CBS News