- Ten people were swept away by an avalanche in the southwestern Swiss Alps on Friday, sparking a major airborne rescue operation, police said.

Although they have all been pulled out of the snow as rescuers were rushed to the spot above the village of Ayer by helicopter, their condition was unknown, police in the canton of Valais said.

“We still don't know if there any victims,” said police spokesman Markus Rieder.

“The avalanche happened at 9.45am (0745 GMT) at an altitude of 2 500 metres in the Val d'Anniviers, above Ayer. Ten people were swept away,” he told AFP.

An avalanche alert on level three of a scale of five was in force across the Swiss Alps on Friday, signalling a “marked” danger as the high altitude ski touring season was underway.

Five hikers from a French mountaineering club were killed, including one still missing feared dead, and five were injured last Saturday when 11 people were hit by an avalanche near Bourg St Pierre, further west in the Valais region. - Sapa-AFP