France minister to visit avalanche site

A helicopter flies over the site of an avalanche near Valfrejus, in FranceImage copyright

French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is to visit the site of an avalanche in the Alps that killed five French Foreign Legionnaires.

Another six were injured when the avalanche hit close to Valfrejus, not far from the Italian border.

French President Francois Hollande has expressed “the nation’s solidarity” over the deaths.

Only days earlier, two school pupils and a Ukrainian tourist died in another avalanche in the French Alps.

The soldiers killed were among a group of about 50 taking part in an off-piste skiing exercise.

They were at an altitude of 2,200m (7,200ft) when they were caught up in the avalanche shortly before 14:00 (13:00GMT) on Monday.

Search dogs and helicopters immediately began looking for the soldiers.

About 10 were soon found by rescuers – but five died after going into cardiac arrest. One of those found is in intensive care after suffering hypothermia.

Mr Drian is expected to arrive at the scene early on Tuesday.

The nationalities of those killed has not been released. The group was a mixture of veterans and new recruits, lawmaker Julien Aubert told France’s BFM television.

The group were said to be well-equipped at the time of the avalanche. Their regiment specialises in mountain warfare.

It is not the first tragedy to strike the French Foreign Legion, which was established to allow foreign nationals to serve in the French armed forces.

In 2012, an avalanche swept away five members of the 2nd Foreign Engineer Regiment, killing one.

French ski resorts see deaths each year from avalanches, but risks have been heightened in recent days following heavy snowfall.

French Foreign Legion

  • Set up in 1831 to recruit foreign nationals to serve in the French armed forces
  • Was mainly used in battles for the French colonial empire in 19th Century
  • Members have come from 140 counties
  • Those injured for France can apply for French citizenship
  • Has served as a rapid deployment force in recent decades
  • Currently has about 7,700 members
  • Motto: Legio Patria Nostra (Legion Is Our Fatherland)

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