Britons killed in Alps avalanche
Gendarmes use blankets to hide victims of an avalanche at Chamonix rescue base in the French Alps (AP)
Three Britons are believed to be among nine climbers killed in a "catastrophic" alpine avalanche.
A major rescue operation was launched following the disaster on Mont Maudit, in the Mont Blanc range, near Chamonix in France
The Prefecture de la Haute-Savoie said three Britons, two Spaniards, three Germans and one Swiss person died while four people, whose nationalities are not known, are missing.
The Foreign Office could only confirm that five Britons were missing and there was no official word on whether they had died.
Several dozen gendarmes and other rescuers along with two helicopters worked to pull the dead and injured from the mountain after the alarm was raised at 5.25am.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls visited the area and flew over the avalanche site. Speaking at a press conference afterwards, he said: "We are still searching for those who have disappeared. My thoughts are with those victims, with the British and Spanish and German victims, Swiss victims, and my thoughts are with their families who have discovered this painful tragedy... is a personal one.
"We have seen many accidents on the Mont Blanc mountain but we should note that the number of victims and those who have disappeared and the injured is very high. This accident is catastrophic."
A spokeswoman for the prefecture said 28 people left a climbing hut to attempt the route. Some had crossed the path of the avalanche before it hit and others were able to turn back.
The search for those missing has now been called off due to poor weather but it is expected to resume on Friday.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said: "I am very saddened by today's tragedy in Chamonix, and I send my deepest condolences to the friends and families of those affected. We are in very close contact with the French authorities and our ambassador and consular officials are heading to Chamonix to provide consular assistance. We will offer whatever support and assistance we can. I would also like to thank the French rescue services for their efforts in these difficult circumstances."