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5 missing skiers found dead in Swiss Alps, search for 6th continues: "We were trying the impossible"

Five cross-country skiers - including members of the same Swiss family - were found dead along a high Alpine ridge after going missing over the weekend near Switzerland's famed Matterhorn, Swiss police said Monday. Another skier remains missing.

Christian Varone, commander of Valais regional police, told a news conference in Sion, Switzerland, that six skiers set out in "relatively good" conditions on Saturday but that the situation deteriorated quickly. The weather conditions became "catastrophic," with freezing temperatures and a significant avalanche risk, Varone said.

They were on a route between the resort town of Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn, and the village of Arolla, near the border with Italy.

Rescue authorities had already announced a search on Sunday in difficult weather conditions.

Switzerland Missing Skiers
Mountain rescuers and helicopters participate in a rescue mission the Tete Blanche mountain in the Swiss alps mountains, near Sion, Switzerland, Sunday, March 10, 2024.  Valais cantonal police via AP

Varone said five of the six skiers were from a family from the Valais region, and a sixth person who lived in Fribourg in western Switzerland. He said they were aged between 21 and 58, without providing names or further details. He did not specify which person was still missing or indicate whether all the victims were relatives.

"Unfortunately this region is accustomed to tragedies like this," he said, alluding to the deaths of seven hikers - six Italians and a Bulgarian - in the region in 2018.

A relative of the family members alerted police on Saturday after the group didn't arrive in Arolla, as expected, on Saturday before nightfall.

One of the skiers was able to speak by phone with a rescue squad, paving the way for their location near the "Tête Blanche" (White Head) ridge at roughly 11,500 feet, police said.

That triggered an immediate mobilization of search teams. However, they were forced to turn around. Another search, hours later, had to be suspended because of poor weather conditions including avalanche, high wind, fog and cold, police said.

"We were trying the impossible," Varone said, adding that the mission had pushed its efforts "to the extreme, extreme limit," but were forced to turn around to avoid "seriously endangering the lives of the rescue workers."

"Sometimes you have to bow before nature."

Technical teams used mobile phone networks to pinpoint the location of the missing mountaineers. A helicopter squad then ferried in a team including a doctor, a police officer and two rescuers to a cabin on the "Dent Blanche" peak, near where they recovered the five bodies.

Swiss prosecutors said an investigation was underway into the exact circumstances of their deaths.

A search for the sixth person continues.

"As long as there is hope we will keep going... while remaining realistic in view of the conditions this person has been in for the past 48 hours," Varone said.

In a one-week stretch in 2023, six mountaineers fell to their deaths or were killed by rockslides in the same region.

AFP contributed to this report.

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