Helicopters and search teams headed to the scene near the village of Vent (file pic)
© FABRIZIO GANDOLFO/SOPAHelicopters and search teams headed to the scene near the village of Vent (file pic)
A major search and rescue operation is under way after an avalanche in the Ötztal Alps in western Austria.

Three people have been killed, and a fourth has been taken to hospital.

Austrian reports describe a snow slide of 180m (600ft) in length and 80m in width close to the village of Vent, not far from the Italian border in the province of Tyrol.

Police say 17 members of a Dutch ski group were in the area at the time, along with four local mountain guides.

Four of the Dutch group were buried by the avalanche, which took place close to the Martin-Busch Hut, at an altitude of 2,500m. Police said two of them had died before they could be rescued.

The local head of emergency services, Bernd Noggler, told the BBC that helicopters, rescue teams, dog teams and the Alpine police had headed to the scene.

He warned that the danger of new avalanches was very high so rescue workers were proceeding with extreme caution.

The mayor of the nearby town of Sölden, Ernst Schöpf, told Austrian website Kurier that the group had apparently been on their way to the Martin-Busch Hut when the avalanche had happened.

He described their tour as a "classic on the Ötztal circuit" at this time of year.

Rising temperatures have increased the risk of avalanches in Tyrol. Earlier this week a 19-year-old German hiker died when he became caught up in an avalanche near Lake Achensee to the north-east of Innsbruck.