Gendarmes block access to a killing site near Chevaline, French Alps.

Chevaline, France -

Three of the four victims of a shooting in the French Alps appear to have been a British family on holiday, according to an official who said on Thursday a four-year-old girl was found alive at the scene.

The identity of a dead man, described as the father of the family, has been “almost certainly” established, while two women victims are yet to be definitively identified, said Eric Maillaud, a prosecutor in the Haute-Savoie area of eastern France.

Maillaud also said that a four-year-old girl was found alive in the British-registered car, hidden under the bodies, some eight hours after the killings which took place on Wednesday. The fourth victim was a cyclist.

“She was hidden under the bodies for some eight hours and didn't move for the whole time,” and was not discovered until investigators reached the scene, Maillaud said in a briefing to reporters.

Police sealed off the area around the car to allow forensic experts to go over the scene before the corpses were removed.

It was those experts who discovered the four-year-old girl who had previously remained unseen in the car.

Another girl who was found shot at the scene earlier was in stable condition on Thursday, after being rushed to hospital in critical condition, though doctors said she was likely to stay in hospital for several days.

The shooting took place in a tree-lined car park on the edge of the picturesque village of Chevaline which is popular with tourists and second homeowners from all over Europe, including many Britons.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office in London said: “We are aware of the reports of the shooting and we are looking into these urgently.” The Paris embassy was also liaising with the police in Britain.

The bodies were discovered by another cyclist at around 3.50pm (13.50 GMT). He was questioned by police on Wednesday.

“We are going to try to interview people in the neighbourhood,” Maillaud told reporters, stressing that they had not yet formed any hypothesis as to what had happened.

Experts from the national gendarmerie's IRCGN unit were expected to collect DNA samples, shells left at the scene for ballistics analysis and check for traces of other vehicles that may have been at the scene.

The bodies were taken to the town of Grenoble for autopsies.

Around 60 gendarmes were involved in a search for potential clues which continued during the night.

The position of the bodies in the car and the large number of cartridges found at the scene gave rise to speculation the killing could have been the result of an armed robbery that the cyclist may have inadvertently interrupted.

But there was no immediate comment on that theory from the prosecutor or police at the scene. - Sapa-AFP