Glencoe avalanche: Four dead, say police

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Media captionBBC's Laura Bicker: "One of the worst incidents in Glencoe"

Four people have died after an avalanche in Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands, the Northern Constabulary has said.

A party of six climbers, three men and three women, were caught up in the avalanche on Bidean Nam Bian, at about 14:00.

One male member of the party raised the alarm.

The sixth climber, a woman, is in a serious condition in hospital in Fort William.

It is understood the party were descending from a peak on the south side of the valley, when the slope they were on broke away.

The climbers were close to Church Door Buttress when the snow slope broke away.

Image caption Martin Briscoe said this Royal Navy helicopter helped with the rescue operation

Five of them were swept down the mountain and engulfed by ice and snow.

One female climber was recovered alive but has serious head injuries.

John Grieve, leader of Glencoe mountain rescue team, which co-ordinated the search, said the alarm was initially raised by two climbers - who were not part of the group of six - when they discovered one of the casualties lying in the snow.

But, soon after, police were contacted by the male survivor from the climbing party, who told them more people were missing.

Mr Grieve, who is in Spain and was not part of the search, said: "The first call to police was from two other people who had been on the mountain; they found someone lying next to where they were climbing.

"So, the assumption was that it was just one casualty, but it became clear that there were others missing when they heard from the man who is safe."

Prayers are to be held for those who were killed and injured during Sunday service at the nearby St Munda's Church.

Reverend Moira Herkes said it was the worst accident to happen in the area for many years.

"It is very distressing, because people come here for pleasure and when something like this happens it hurts everyone involved," she said.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said it was an "appalling tragedy".

"Our immediate thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who have been lost," he said.

"To lose four people from a party of six is truly devastating.

"The Scottish government will provide any support that we can and I would like to thank the police and mountain rescue team for their efforts in these difficult circumstances."

Anyone who is concerned about relatives climbing in the area are advised to contact Northern Constabulary's control room on 01463 715555.

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