HOPES of finding more survivors after an avalanche buried a mountain resort in central Italy under tonnes of snow and rubble are fading as the death toll rose to 15.
Rescue crews at the Hotel Rigopiano in Abruzzo have also had to deal with fresh tragedy after a helicopter crashed in the same region.
The aircraft was ferrying an injured skier off the slopes when it went down with at least six people on board.
Poor visibility is hampering efforts to reach the downed helicopter, which had been taking the injured skier from the Campo Felice ski area to the Abruzzo regional capital of L’Aquila.
The crash was another blow to central Italy’s Abruzzo region, which has been slammed by a series of powerful earthquakes and heavy snowfall which triggered the January 18 avalanche at the Hotel Rigopiano.
The death toll from the avalanche has climbed to 15 with the discovery of a half-dozen more bodies, leaving 14 people still unaccounted for.
Nine people were pulled out alive from the rubble, three of whom remain in hospital in nearby Pescara.
Rescue crews had been buoyed 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 are thought to be.
Firefighters’ spokesman Alberto Maiolo said search crews aided by heavy digging equipment were finally able to penetrate the snow-covered central part of the hotel for the first time — the bar and kitchen area — and found the bodies.
He said there were no other signs of life.
‘Logically, hopes fade as time passes, but we are continuing to search and trying to do it as quickly as possible,’ he said.
The first funerals have been held, with crowds gathering outside the hilltop church in Farindola to pay their respects to Alessandro Giancaterino.