Six people, five Czechs and a Slovak, have been killed in an avalanche near the ski resort of Soelden in the Austrian Alps.

The avalanche was the worst to have struck Austria in nine years and hit the group about 500m below the summit of Schalfkogel.

Mountain rescuers were immediately alerted by witnesses but were unable to get to the scene because of the poor weather.

Rescuers made a fresh attempt by helicopter this morning and were able to recover the six bodies which were buried under between one and two metres of snow.

The hikers had set out from the mountain refuge at Hochwilderhaus for Schalfkoge.

Only one member of the party, a 45-year-old man, stayed behind.

He identified the bodies of his friends for police this morning.

‘It is clear that conditions were not right for a high-altitude tour on Saturday,’ said Soelden mayor Ernst Schoepf.

In March 2000, 12 people were killed by a massive avalanche in the central town of Niedernsill.

The previous year a total 47 people died in the Tyrol in three separate avalanches.

A five-metre avalanche devastated the resort of Galtuer in February 1999 killing 31 people.

The next day another avalanche killed seven people in the neighbouring village of Valzur.