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Nine people dead after weekend avalanches in Austria

A police helicopter and emergency teams work at the site of an avalanche in the Spiss municipality in Austria on Friday. The avalanche had occurred on Friday near the Austrian-Swiss border killing four skiers from Sweden and their Austrian guide. The entire region in the west of the country has been hit by several avalanches that have up to now caused the death of nine people. Photo by Liebl Daniel/EPA-EFE
A police helicopter and emergency teams work at the site of an avalanche in the Spiss municipality in Austria on Friday. The avalanche had occurred on Friday near the Austrian-Swiss border killing four skiers from Sweden and their Austrian guide. The entire region in the west of the country has been hit by several avalanches that have up to now caused the death of nine people. Photo by Liebl Daniel/EPA-EFE

Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Nine people have died after a series of avalanches were recorded across the Alps in Austria over the weekend, according to police officials.

A 42-year-old ski guide from Austria was leading a group of five male tourists from Sweden down a mountain near the ski village of Samnaun, Switzerland, on Friday morning when they were swept away by a 350- to 400-meter-wide slab avalanche, police in the Tirol region of Austria said in a news release.

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Police were alerted to the avalanche by one of the tourists, a Swedish police officer who had been partially buried and was able to use his cell phone to call a friend who alerted police of the disaster.

Emergency responders searched both sides of the Austrian-Swiss border for the group and recovered the bodies of four tourists and the ski guide. The victims were all in their mid-40s.

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The Swedish police officer was rescued and was flown by helicopter to receive medical treatment, police said. His condition was not immediately known.

Later in the afternoon, two winter sports enthusiasts from Austria were skiing near the resort town of Auffach-Wildschönau when one of the pair, a 60-year-old man, called relatives around 3:30 p.m. to alert them that they had reached the summit of a nearby mountain, police said.

Relatives did not hear again from the couple, who were recreational athletes, and alerted authorities that they were missing.

Emergency responders used rescue dogs and drones to search for the missing victims, who were found dead by authorities Saturday using an avalanche transceiver and dug out from the snow, police said.

Police said that the skiers had carried an avalanche transceiver with them, as well as an avalanche shovel and probe.

On Saturday, a group of five Austrian skiers were climbing toward the mountain Riepenspitze near the town of Schmirn around 10:35 a.m. when they were all swept away by an avalanche.

Two members of the group were completely buried, one of whom died. The other four members of the group were all rescued with varying levels of injuries and transported to local hospitals for treatment, according to police.

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In the popular Vorarlberg region, a group of experienced snowboarders and skiers and their guide were climbing a mountain when "a huge slab of snow" came loose and swept one of the men away.

More than 20 rescue workers and five avalanche dogs searched for the 43-year-old man, who died after failed life-saving attempts.

Several others across the Tirol and Vorarlberg regions were reported to have been buried or partially buried by avalanches but were able to be rescued or freed themselves, police said.

According to European Avalanche Warning Service, much of the Tirol region remains under high danger warning levels on Monday.

"The danger exists in particular in alpine snow sports terrain. As a consequence of new snow and a strong to storm force northwesterly wind, extensive wind slabs formed in the last few days in all aspects," the service said in its warning.

"Avalanches can be released easily. In some places avalanches can release the weakly bonded old snow as well and reach a dangerous size. Remotely triggered avalanches are possible."

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