Nine climbers have been killed and nine others injured in an avalanche near the French Alpine ski resort of Chamonix, officials say.

Two Spaniards, one German and one Swiss national were among the victims, the Haute-Savoie prefecture told the BBC. Two others have not been identified.

The bodies of three more people ? said to be Britons ? have also been found. At least four people are still missing.

The alarm was sounded by one of the injured on the slopes of Mont Maudit.

The route is popular with summer tourists heading for the summit of Mont Blanc.

In all, 28 climbers were roped together in several groups on Thursday morning.

They are believed to have reached 4,000m (13,120 ft) when the avalanche struck.

Rescuers were alerted about the avalanche at 05:25 local time (03:25 GMT) by one of the injured.

A spokeswoman at the Haute-Savoie prefecture told the BBC initially that six bodies had been found.

Hours later, rescuers found the bodies of three more victims, believed to be Britons.

Four more climbers ? said to be two UK nationals and two Spaniards ? are still missing, AFP news agency reports.

The British Foreign Office said they have had no confirmation from the French that any UK nationals were among the climbers.

The injured were airlifted to a local hospital.

Rescue teams are using a helicopter and heat-seeking device to try to locate the missing.

The French authorities described the avalanche as ?the most deadly? in recent years.

The weather in the region has been warm and windy over the last few days, which could have led to an increased risk of avalanche at high altitudes, the BBC?s Imogen Foulkes in Berne reports.

Chamonix-based mountain guide Richard Mansfield described the area as ?very beautiful?, but said that it was avalanche-prone.

He said the slopes on Mont Maudit faced away from the prevailing wind, which meant snow could be pushed over forming slabs.

?These can easily be set off by a passing climber, causing an avalanche,? he said.

French officials said that Interior Minister Manuel Valls would arrive to the region later on Thursday.

Mont Maudit ? meaning the cursed mountain ? is the third-highest peak in the Mont Blanc massif range, rising to 4,465m.

Last week, five foreign climbers fell to their deaths in the Valais canton in the Swiss Alps.?BBC

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