Space & Innovation

Alps Avalanche Kills 5 Foreign Legionnaires

Five French Foreign Legionnaires were killed Monday during a training exercise in the French Alps, the second mountain tragedy in France in less than a week.

Five French Foreign Legionnaires were killed Monday during a training exercise in the French Alps, the second mountain tragedy in France in less than a week.

Another six soldiers were injured near the resort of Valfrejus, with one in intensive care in hospital after suffering hypothermia.

They were among a group of about 50 soldiers taking part in the skiing exercise.

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Three helicopters were involved in the search, as well as five police dogs and three doctors.

The nationalities of the victims were not immediately known. The French Foreign Legion attracts recruits from around the world.

French President Francois Hollande expressed "the nation's solidarity" over the deaths and wished the injured a speedy recovery.

He also asked Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to head to the scene of the accident, the presidency said in a statement.

Drian was expected to arrive early Tuesday.

The avalanche took place at 1:50 pm (1250 GMT) at an altitude of between 2,350 and 2,600 metres (7,700-8,500 feet).

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French prosecutors are looking into whether they or military authorities should handle the probe of the accident. If investigators find evidence of criminal wrongdoing the military would handle the case.

The regiment to which the soldiers were attached is specialized in mountain warfare and all the members have military skiing qualifications.

They were in the mountains in preparation for their departure on an operation.

The unit experienced a similar tragedy in 2012 in the Alps when an avalanche swept away five of its members, leaving one dead.

Deadly Alps Avalanches Monday's accident came days after two French teenage students and a Ukrainian tourist were killed in an avalanche in the French Alps last Wednesday.

A French teacher who took the students onto a closed skiing piste in that incident has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The 47-year-old, who was seriously injured in the incident was charged at his bedside in hospital in the south-central city of Grenoble.

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The victims, a 16-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy, were from a school in Lyon. The 56-year-old Ukrainian man who was also killed in the avalanche was not part of the group.

According to prosecutors, the piste was closed off with netting and warnings in four languages but the school group climbed over the netting "fully aware" of what they were doing.

The piste had been closed all season because of a lack of snow. But heavy snowfall in recent days had blanketed the mountains, prompting authorities to warn of a high risk of avalanches across the French Alps.

Dozens die each year in avalanches in France's popular ski resorts. At least 45 people died in snowslides during the 2014-15 winter season in France, according to the National Agency for the Study of Snow and Avalanches (ANENA), more than double the previous year.

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

This is a file photo of the aftermath of a past avalanche in the Alps.

Mount Huashan, in Huayin City, is one of the five sacred mountains in China. The path to the top of the mountain is incredibly steep and treacherous. Its cliffs are almost perpendicular to the Earth but the views from above are breathtaking. A cable car takes tourists from the east gate to the North Peak directly, but many people go for the trekking option, if for nothing more than athletic accomplishment. Check out the

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This Happened Here

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This photo was taken by amateur photographer Vivian Lee at Mount Huashan in the autumn of 2012. "We were given a chest harness, two carabiners, and with minimal instructions, off we went. The most daunting part of the initial dissent was down a narrow ladder of iron rods hammered into the side of the mountain."

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"With two way traffic, there were times when two people could be standing on the same rod at the same time," Lee said. "At the bottom of this makeshift ladder is a 2-foot-wide plank to traverse across and a metal chain to clip your carabiners as you make your way across."

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"The tea houses dotted around the mountain," Lee said, "used to be Taoist temples, now converted to allow hikers to take tea breaks or camp overnight during their visit. We also enjoyed a pot of freshly brewed Chinese tea when we finally reached the south peak.

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An estimated 100 people die every year on Mount Huashan. "I wanted to capture the emotions of these daring hikers, and at the same time, find that for myself," Lee said. "What compels them to take such risks? What was at the end of this plank walk?"

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When we reached the end, all we found was a small shrine," Lee said. "But I felt it was the sheer adrenaline of being in the clouds that attracted people like myself here."

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