Helicopter ferrying injured skier crashes in central Italy, death toll rises
PENNE, Italy - A helicopter ferrying an injured skier off the slopes crashed Tuesday in central Italy with at least six people aboard, another tragedy to hit a region slammed by recent earthquakes, heavy snowfall and an avalanche.
Italy's civil protection agency spokesman Luigi D'Angelo said poor visibility was hampering efforts by rescue crews to reach the downed chopper. He said the helicopter was taking the injured skier from the Campo Felice ski area to the Abruzzo regional capital of L'Aquila.
He said unconfirmed information indicates there were six or seven people aboard, including the skier, medical personnel and flight crew.
The area is in Abruzzo, the same mountainous region where emergency crews have been working around the clock to recover victims of the powerful Jan. 18 avalanche that crushed a hotel.
The death toll from the avalanche now stands at 14.
But 15 people are still missing under a mountain resort buried by tons of snow and rubble.
Firefighters located half a dozen bodies within a few hours today, doubling the death toll six days after the disaster. Rescue crews had been given hope by the discovery of three of the hotel's resident puppies, though they stressed that the sheepdogs were found in a boiler room far from where the missing people were thought to be.
A firefighter spokesman says search crews aided by excavators were finally able to penetrate the snow-covered central part of the hotel - the bar and kitchen area - for the first time and found the bodies. He said there were no signs of life.