Six dead after helicopter crash in Italy

It is believed the helicopter was not involved in the ongoing rescue operation at the Hotel Rigopiano

Six dead after helicopter crash in Italy

File photo. A view of the mountains' crest in the area of Rigopiano, central Italy, where a hotel has been buried under an avalanche. Picture by Gregorio Borgia AP/Press Association Images

Six people have been killed after a rescue helicopter crashed in the same Italian mountain range as the hotel hit by a deadly avalanche last week.

It came down in a dense blanket of fog and low cloud near the Campo Felice ski resort on the other side of the Gran Sasso mountains.

The helicopter had been sent to rescue an injured skier from a piste close to the epicentres of the recent earthquakes and last week's deadly avalanche.

"The area where it came down is hard to access at the best of times, and thick fog is making it even more difficult," a police spokesman said.

It is not thought the helicopter was involved in the ongoing rescue operation at the Hotel Rigopiano.

Seven more bodies have been found in the ruins of the hotel, which was engulfed in snow and ice.

The confirmed death toll now stands at 15 and rescuers say hopes are fading of finding alive any of the other 14 people still missing.

Rescue crews' spirits were raised on Monday when three of the Hotel Rigopiano's resident puppies were found alive.

But they were found in a boiler room a long way from where the missing are thought to be.

"Hopes fade as time passes"

The latest bodies to be discovered were found in the snow-covered bar and kitchen area after excavators were used to dig a pathway through the ice and rubble.

Firefighter spokesman Alberto Maiolo said: "Logically, hopes fade as time passes, but we are continuing to search and trying to do it as quickly as possible."

Rescuers who have been working around the clock have not completely ruled out finding more survivors.

They believe some rooms they are trying to reach by tunnelling through thick stone walls may be almost intact, so people could still be alive if they have managed to stay warm.

Nine people, including four children, were found alive on Friday.

They were dug out of the snow and ice two days after the avalanche engulfed the remote hotel.

Prosecutors have opened a preliminary manslaughter investigation into the disaster.

They are looking into whether environmental risks were properly taken into account during the building and subsequent renovation of the hotel.

The four-star hotel and spa facility, where George Clooney once stayed, was built into a hillside high on the eastern slopes of Monte Gran Sasso.

The first two funerals have been held for victims of the disaster.