THREE climbers have died and one has been injured after they were caught up in a huge avalanche on Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain.
Police Scotland were alerted to the incident shortly after 11.50am on Tuesday and began co-ordinating a mountain rescue response.
The avalanche occurred at Number 5 Gully and police confirmed the casualties.
A spokesman said: “Police Scotland is currently co-ordinating a mountain rescue response following reports of an avalanche on Ben Nevis this morning
“Police were informed that the avalanche had occurred in Number 5 Gully area at around 11:50am.”
The spokesman has now confirmed a third climber has died.
He said: “Volunteers from Lochaber and Glencoe Mountain Rescue Teams remain at the scene and were assisted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Scottish Ambulance Service.
“Further details will be released when available.”
It comes as the potential avalanche risk in Lochaber, where Ben Nevis is located, was assessed as “high” yesterday, the Scottish Avalanche Information Service said.
The Scottish Ambulance Service were also alerted to the incident shortly after 12.20pm and sent an air ambulance, three ambulances and a trauma team to the peak.
A spokesman said: “We received a call at 1222 hours today to attend an incident in Ben Nevis.
“We dispatched three ambulances, a Helimed resource and our trauma team to the scene.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “absolutely tragic news”.
She tweeted: “My thoughts are very much with the bereaved and injured. And my gratitude as always for the work of our emergency services, Mountain Rescue and Coastguard.”
Ben Nevis, near Fort William in the western Highlands, is a popular destination for experienced climbers, attracting 125,000 visitors each year.
This is not the first incident to occur on the mountain – which at 1,345m is the UK’s highest – this winter.
On New Year’s Day, a woman died after falling 500ft whilst climbing the “ledge route” on the mountain.
In December a student from Cardiff University died after falling in the “Tower Gully” part of the mountain.
The tragedy comes as gale force winds caused by Storm Gareth continue to lash the UK.
Storm Gareth, named by Irish forecaster Met Eireann on Monday, is expected to bring the worst period of weather since the “Beast from the East” savaged Britain last February.
Multiple yellow “be aware” weather warnings covering Northern Ireland, England, Wales and parts of western Scotland will remain in force throughout today and into Wednesday.
The Environment Agency (AE) warned of floods from deluges and big waves on coasts in north-west and north-east England.
Some 6 flood warnings – meaning “immediate action required” – and less serious 38 alerts are in place in those regions.