By Talia Avakian
May 03, 2018
Geir Pettersen/Getty Images

Seven skiers died after getting caught in a sudden storm that forced them to spend the night in freezing temperatures in the Swiss canton of Valais on Sunday, making up just half of the total weather-related fatalities reported.

Heavy snowfall and 62-mile-per-hour winds tragically trapped the group of 14 — 13 skiers and one guide that reportedly started out as two groups but ended up together — and forced them to spend the night outside even though they were just a few hundred meters away from the safety of an alpine hut, according to The Local.

The group was attempting to complete the strenuous Haute Route, which crosses the Alps from Chamonix to Zermatt, when they were hit by the storm and forced to stop at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters above sea level, Valais officials said.

“Now I understand what hell is,” Tommaso Piccioli, one of the survivors of the incident, told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Piccioli, a skier, said he tried to lead the group forward since he was the only person with a GPS that worked at such high elevation, until the group got to a point where the path was no longer visible, forcing them to stop in an exposed saddle.

“That too was a mistake because we do not stop in the saddles when the wind is blowing; you have to stop in a sheltered spot and dig a hole,” he said.

Piccioli said they tried not to fall asleep as they knew if they did they would be overtaken by hypothermia.

Search and rescue workers found the group's guide dead on the scene, while three other people died shortly after being transported to a local hospital. As of Wednesday, a total of seven in the group had died, The Local reported.

The deadly storm has claimed 14 lives so far, including two French travelers killed at the foot of Mont Blanc, two Swiss climbers who died in the Bernese Alps at over 4,000 meters, and a French hiker who was caught in an avalanche at the Allalin Glacier, according to La Repubblica. The Italian newspaper added that seven of the 14 total victims were from Italy.

According to The Local, this was the most deadly storm in the Swiss Alps since 1999, when 12 people died after an avalanche in Valais.

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