Family of skiers found dead in Swiss Alps as urgent search and rescue underway for sixth person still missing

11 March 2024, 10:20 | Updated: 11 March 2024, 11:29

The group set off from Zermatt.
The group set off from Zermatt. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

Five skiers who went missing in the Swiss Alps over the weekend have been found dead with an urgent search underway for one person still missing.

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A huge search and rescue operation was launched on Saturday after six people went missing near the Tete Blanche mountain.

The group left Zermatt on Saturday morning on a ski tour towards the town of Arolla, near the Matterhorn mountain.

They passed near the Tete Blanche mountain, located between Zermatt and Arolla, as the area was suffering a brutal storm that left them stranded at an altitude of around 11,400ft (3,500 metres).

The group had been missing for more than 24 hours when five of the six skiers were found at 9:20pm local time “without any signs of life”, Swiss Valais canton police said in a statement.

Authorities said the group of skiers were all Swiss nationals, ranging from ages 21-58, and five out of six of them were members of the same family from the canton of Valais.

The sixth person is from the canton of Friborg.

It has not been confirmed if the five found dead were all the members of the same family.

“At around 9:20 pm (2020 GMT) it reached the Tete Blanche sector, where it discovered the bodies of five of the six people who were missing,” a police statement read.

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A search is still underway for the sixth skier.
A search is still underway for the sixth skier. Picture: Alamy

The head of Zermatt’s air rescue service Anjan Truffer said they received a distress signal from one of the skiers at around 5:19pm on Saturday.

This gave rescuers a rough location in the Col de Tete Blanche, which has a peak of about 12,160ft above sea level.

Speaking to local outlet Blick, Mr Truffer said flying in to rescue the group was not an option due to the severe weather in the region.

“Very strong winds, heavy snow, high avalanche danger, and zero visibility” would have left rescuers “dead in two minutes”, he said.

The Alps have seen high winds over the past few days and heavy snow in the last 24 hours, with the neighbouring winter resort Saas-Fee currently cut off by snow.

Mr Truffer said the skiers may have been caught in the middle of the storm rather than having been struck by an avalanche, as the area they went missing in has a low risk of avalanches.

He said the last signal from the group was recorded overnight and was “not verbal” but allowed them to get a rough idea of their location.

Five rescuers attempted to reach the location on foot but were forced to return after reaching an altitude of of 9,840ft due to the weather, according to local media.

The search for the sixth skier continued overnight and is still ongoing.