Cairngorms avalanche: Man and woman die and one critical in hospital
A man and a woman have died and a man has been critically injured after being caught in an avalanche in the Highlands of Scotland.
All three casualties were airlifted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, with one being pronounced dead on arrival.
Northern Constabulary said the alert was raised shortly after 12:30 in the Chalamain Gap area of the Cairngorms.
Police, mountain rescue teams, search and rescue dogs and an RAF helicopter were all involved in the operation.
It is understood the three climbers involved were buried in the snow when rescuers found them.
A police spokesman said no further information would be issued until formal identification had taken place and next of kin had been informed.
The Sportscotland Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) had issued forecasts for Thursday warning of a period of avalanche activity overnight in the Cairngorms and a considerable hazard throughout the day.
The Chalamain Gap is a deep, rocky valley in the Cairngorms, on the route from the Cairngorm ski road to the Lairig Ghru.
Nine other climbers in the party were unhurt and walked off the mountain.
David Rutledge, the training officer for Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team, was involved in controlling the operation from the team's base.
Mr Rutledge said it was a fairly "contained scenario", close to the roadside, and three doctors were on scene very quickly.
"From that perspective, no search was necessary. The key aspect to this was to get people there as quickly as possible," he said.
"Conditions today were quite clear, which was ideal for flying. Snow conditions would have been affected massively by the weather we've had over the last few days, but significantly temperatures were increasing throughout the day and that will have had an effect on what was going on.
"Wind speeds were quite high this morning and all of those things have a contributing factor to the snow conditions."
First Minister Alex Salmond said: "My thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends of those who have sadly been killed in this tragic accident, as well as those who are still being cared for in hospital."
This is the latest in a series of avalanche incidents in the Scottish Highlands in the past few weeks.
Four experienced climbers were killed in an avalanche in Glencoe on 19 January. Two of their party survived, with one suffering serious injuries.
That incident was described as a "tragic event" by the chairman of the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland Jonathan Hart.
Two climbers escaped unhurt after being caught in a snow slide in Coire an Lochain, also in the Cairngorms, on the same weekend.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) said there were 52 fatalities on Scotland's mountains in 2011. Of those, 21 were mountaineering-related. The year before, there were 45 fatalities in total, with 16 of those mountaineering-related.