Six die as rescue helicopter crashes in central Italy

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Rome : All six people aboard a rescue helicopter perished on Tuesday when it crashed in central Italy's Abruzzo region while flying an injured skier to hospital, officials said.

Rescuers climbed through a blizzard to reach the snow-covered crash site near the ski resort of Campo Felice after the mountain slope proved too steep to use snowmobiles.

The rescue team found the helicopter wreckage lying in deep snow and ice at around 1,600 metres altitude and had to carry the victims' bodies back down the mountainside on stretchers.

The chopper is thought to have hit power lines at around noon as it flew through dense fog and to have crashed from a height of around 600 metres near the town of Lucoli in the province of L'Acquila.

Some witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion before the helicopter came down.

Lucoli's Mayor Gianluca Marrocchi said he and a friend had noticed a low-flying chopper overhead at around 11am.

The crash victims include five crew members and the injured skier, who they were taking to hospital in L'Aquila.

The doomed rescue operation was not related to last week's avalanche that engulfed a hotel nearby after a series of strong earthquakes the same day, killing at least 15 people.

Campo Felice is a small skiing resort popular with day-trippers from Rome. Like the avalanche-hit Hotel Rigopiano, it is located in Italy's Gran Sasso mountain range.