Image: Avalanche victims in Turkey
Zafer Sel  /  AP
The bodies of avalanche victims lie in the snow Sunday as army officers and rescue workers discuss trying to find possible survivors after an avalanche killed at least 10 people as they hiked on Mount Zigana (2,200-meter) in Gumushane province in northeastern Turkey. 
updated 1/25/2009 11:12:13 AM ET 2009-01-25T16:12:13

An avalanche slammed into a group of Turkish hikers on a trip to a remote mountain plateau on Sunday, dragging them more than (1640 feet) 500 meters into a valley and fatally burying 10 of them.

The members of a skiing and mountaineering club were taking part in an annual winter sports celebration on 7,200-foot (2,200-meter) Mount Zigana. Seventeen were hiking single-file when the avalanche swept them away.

"It must have been 15 or 20 minutes after we set off on our walk. We were walking along a single line. I was toward the middle of the line. We looked up and there was nowhere to run. The snow took us and dragged us along," 61-year-old Kasim Keles told reporters from his hospital bed.

"The snow dragged me down into a valley before it stopped," he said.

"My right hand was stuck beneath me, with my left hand I cleared my face; I began to breath and called for help," Keles said.

Saved by a fellow hiker
Keles said he was saved by a fellow hiker who escaped unharmed and dug him out of the snow with her hands.

Faruk Ozak, Turkey's minister in charge of public works and housing who visited the site, said two other hikers were injured while five others escaped the slide.

Military and private mountain rescue team assisted by sniffer dogs carried out a search for the missing that was called off after sunset, private CNN-Turk television reported. Rescue workers could be seen probing with long rods and digging through several feet of snow with shovels.

The mountain straddles Trabzon, the hikers' home province, and the neighboring province of Gumushane. The Zigana tunnel — one of Turkey's longest mountain passes — connects the two.

Reports said another group of some 15 hikers were also on a walking tour of the mountain but were not hit by the slide.

Television footage showed soldiers and villagers struggling through the snow to carry a person lying on a makeshift stretcher.

"We were walking and before we realized what was going on, the avalanche came on us," Ural Ayar, one of the survivors, told NTV television by telephone. "The snow dragged our friends along and unfortunately they were buried."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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