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Swiss Police Say 6th Hiker Dies After Snowstorm in Alps

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Geneva (AP) -- The death toll among a group of hikers trapped by an unexpected snowstorm in the Swiss Alps rose to six Tuesday, police said. The victims were identified as five Italians and a Bulgarian woman.

The regional Valais police department said another person remains in critical condition following the blast of snow and high winds in the Pigne d'Arolla region of Switzerland, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) west of the famed Matterhorn.

A total of 14 hikers from two groups were trying to reach the Vignettes hikers' hut, located at 3,157 meters (10,357 feet) in the Pennine Alps, when they were caught in the bad weather.

They spent the night from Sunday to Monday out in freezing temperatures with no shelter before authorities mounted a rescue operation involving seven helicopters.

Police spokesman Markus Rieder said a 52-year-old Bulgarian woman died in a hospital Tuesday. Two Italian couples — in their mid-40s and mid-50s — also died from hypothermia after being evacuated to the hospital.

The sixth victim was a 59-year-old Italian man, who was guiding 10 hikers and fell to his death before rescuers arrived.

Police said a 72-year-old Swiss woman, a 56-year-old French woman, and a 43-year-old Italian woman remained hospitalized Tuesday.

Three French people, a German woman and an Italian man suffered mild hypothermia.

One of the survivors, Tommaso Piccioli, said Tuesday that he almost didn't make it out alive.

The hikers got caught in the snowstorm after they took a wrong path, Piccioli told Italian state TV in a phone interview. They wanted to carve out a hole in the snow for shelter, "but we couldn't, we were too exhausted" by nightfall, said Piccioli, who was released from the hospital Tuesday.

He thinks he survived because he refused to lie down, but kept himself moving and awake through the night while others slept.

"Every so often I wanted to let myself go" and die, Piccioli said. "But then I thought of my wife."

The Italian news agency ANSA said Piccioli is a 50-year-old architect.

Europe has experienced turbulent weather recently, with unseasonable spells of hot and cold temperatures.

In a separate incident Tuesday, Italian authorities said two skiers fell hundreds of meters (feet) to their deaths in the Dolomite mountains, ANSA reported.

The two Italian skiers were described as experienced members of Alpine rescue squads, but were skiing recreationally when they fell.

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Frances D'Emilio contributed to this report from Rome.

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