04:56 GMT26 November 2020
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    Two climbers were left hanging from another man's rope after they fell and died in the central Abruzzo region in Italy.

    The men slipped on snow and died on Thursday morning while trying to climb Gran Sasso Mountain, with their bodies being recovered only in the early afternoon. Rescue squads were called in by a third climber who was connected to the victims with a rope, according to local media.

    An Italian woman, aged 49, died on Christmas Day on the mountain in similar circumstances, with her body being recovered at dawn on Boxing Day after her relatives alerted authorities.

    Both deaths came at the same time as a major search operation was launched for skiers buried by four avalanches in Austria and Switzerland. The Austrian ski resort of Ankogel experienced three avalanches mid-morning on Boxing Day.  The Swiss resort of Andermatt was also hit, with at least two people slightly injured and more buried after an avalanche swept down a ski slope in the Oberalppass area.

    "We believe there are more people buried but we can't say how many," Reto Pfister, the state police spokesman in the Swiss canton of Uri, told NBC News.

    Four others were rescued or freed themselves from the snow without injury, according to a police statement.

    "The longer the search takes, the smaller the chance they get away without an injury or danger to life," Pfister added.

    Alpine Rescue Switzerland, Swiss Air Ambulance and the state police are involved in the rescue operation.

    Heavy snowfall has raised the avalanche danger level to three, meaning significant danger, in Andermatt in recent days. One of the avalanches happened outside the secured ski area, burying two free riders who were able to free themselves, while another large avalanche that came down directly on the slope may have buried more people, with more than 60 rescue workers, helicopters and dogs searching, according to the police.

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    Switzerland, Austria, Italy
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