Three killed in Italian avalanche

Courmayeur is located in the Italian Alps

Three people were killed and five injured on Thursday after an avalanche swept through an off-piste section of the northwestern Italian ski resort of Courmayeur, rescuers said.

Around 20 skiers, all non-Italians, were in the area where the snow slide occurred just before 1:00 pm (1200 GMT) in the middle of what is one of the busiest weeks of the year for skiing in the Alps, according to media reports.

"The avalanche killed three, injured three people who were taken to hospital by helicopter and left two slightly hurt," alpine rescuers said in a statement. "All were skiing off piste."

A second avalanche followed an hour later in the nearby San Carlo, but after early reports that it engulfed two off-piste skiers, rescue services said there had been no further injuries.

Emergency services suspended the search for missing people after locator sensors and rescue dogs did not detect the presence of other victims in the area, said alpine rescuer Adriano Favre.

Favre also told the Italian news agency AGI that no hotel or shelter had reported missing guests.

The avalanche risk had been put at three on a one to five scale as a result of fresh snowfalls and high winds which led to a build-up of drifts in certain spots.

Courmayeur is famed for its challenging skiing on the southern slopes of Mont Blanc.