French officials are opening an investigation into how a teacher was able to take a group of 10 schoolchildren out onto a closed ski slope that was later struck by a huge avalanche in the Alps.
Three people, including two teenagers from the same Lyon school, were killed while others suffered cardiac arrest. A Ukrainian man who was not part of the group also died, and the teacher himself was seriously injured.
More than 20 people were caught up in the incident on the Bellecombe track at the Le Deux-Alpes resort, where many pistes were closed with recent heavy snowfall yet to settle.
The search for survivors went well into Wednesday night, but the French interior ministry later confirmed all those missing had been accounted for.
Patrick Kanner, minister for youth and sports: “How could anyone think to take children, after a period of heavy snow, on a track that was closed?”
The prefect of the Isere region that the ski trail was so risky it had been closed since the “beginning of the (ski) season” in December.
Jean-Paul Bonnetain said that the group leader “had taken the initiative” to lead the school group onto this piste.
He said that the trail “was really of a technical level” that is not suitable for beginners or students aged between 16 and 17.
Didier Bobillier the director of the Deux Alpes resort, confirmed to local radio station France Bleu Isère that the Bellecombe track where the accident took place was closed at the time.
He said nets were in place but added that it was “extremely difficult to control all access” to a resort area covering around 4.7 square kilometres.
Dominique Letang, head of France’s national avalanche and snow studies agency: “What’s concerning is the number of people involved when we say constantly that skiers must pass one by one over an unstable snowpack.”
French president Francois Hollande has sent his condolences to those close to the victims. In a statement Wednesday evening he said the French education minister is on his way to Lyon. He is expected to arrive in the coming hours to “support the school community and the families”.