Several others were injured after a stretch of glacier on Mount Marmolada broke, crashing into hikers, rescuers said.
A large chunk of Alpine glacier has broken off and slid down a mountainside in northern Italy, sending ice, snow and rocks smashing into hikers on a popular mountaintop trail and killing at least Five people and eight people were injured, authorities said.
“Rescue operations are underway after a large avalanche involving people on excursions,” the Trento provincial government said on Sunday, adding that there could be “a number of people injured.” or a serious death”.
Italy’s state television RAI said the death toll was six, but that death toll could not be immediately confirmed. It is unknown how many hikers may be missing.
The National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps tweeted that the search for the affected area of Mount Marmolada involved at least five helicopters and rescue dogs.
“Five died among those hit by the serous detachment,” the emergency services tweet said, referring to a technical term for the glacier’s peak. “There are eight people injured, two of them in serious condition.”
Coordination service SUEM, based in nearby Veneto, said 18 people above the area where the ice occurred would be evacuated by the Alpine rescue team.
The dispatch service said the avalanche consisted of “snow, ice and rock falling”.
Marmolada, about 3,300m (10,800 feet) high, is the highest peak in the eastern Dolomites.
The Alpine Rescue Service said in a tweet that the broken stretch of road near Punta Rocca (Rock Point), “along the route commonly used to reach the summit”.
It is still unclear what caused the ice to break off and plunge down the slope of the mountain. Walter Milan, a spokesman for the Alpine rescue service, told state TV channel RAI, but the intense heat wave that has gripped Italy since late June could be a factor.
“Temperatures are unusual,” Milan said, noting that temperatures in recent days at the peak have reached 10 C (50 F). “It was extremely hot,” Milan said. “Obviously it was something unusual.”
The injured were taken to several hospitals in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto, according to rescue services.