An avalanche struck 27 members of a Norwegian army ski patrol on NATO maneuvers in northern Norway today, leaving at least seven soldiers dead and 11 missing, military officials said.
Lt. Col. Gunnar Mjell, information officer for the NATO winter exercise "Anchor Express," said in a radio interview that nine soldiers were hospitalized in Narvik and Harstad, about 900 miles north of Oslo.
Mjell said no foreign soldiers were buried when the avalanche of snow roared down a hill at Vassdalen, burying 27 of the 30 members of a Norwegian patrol from the Army Engineer Corps near Elvegaardsmoen Army Base.
Narvik Police Chief Ivar Schjoern said several hundred soldiers, 12 helicopters, civilian rescue teams and dogs were still searching for the missing soldiers as dusk fell.
Mjell said it was uncertain whether the missing seven could survive the night. Meteorologists said temperatures would drop to minus 22 degrees.
Avalanche warnings had been issued throughout the region as an Arctic storm pounded northern Norway after a warm spell last week.
One radio report said that surviving soldiers had reported the accident by portable radio but that the connection had been so poor that the first reports were confusing and conflicting.
About 20,000 soldiers of 10 North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations, including 15,000 Norwegians, are involved in the winter exercise, scheduled throughout northern Norway until March 13. The strategic area faces a Soviet military complex on the nearby Kola peninsula.
Mjell said the maneuver in Vassdalen was called off because of the accident.