At least four people have died after being struck by a chunk of Alpine glacier that broke loose on Sunday afternoon, the large piece of glacier slid down the mountainside and slammed into more than a dozen hikers on a popular hiking trail.
The National Alpine and Cave Rescue Corps said the search of the Marmolada peak involved five helicopters and rescue dogs. Emergency responders in Italy said they believed that 15 hikers were in the stricken area at the time of the incident.
Marmolada is the highest peak in the eastern Dolomites and stands at 3,300 meters, approximately 11,000 feet tall.
Emergency dispatchers tweeted: "A breaking away of rock provoked the opening of a crevasse on the glacier, leaving about 15 people involved."
The Alpine rescue service said that the segment broke off close to Punta Rocca (Rock Point), "along the itinerary normally used to reach the peak."
Although the cause of the chunk of ice breaking off has not been confirmed yet, it is thought that the intense heat wave that Italy has been experiencing since late June would likely have played a large part.
A spokesperson for the Alpine rescue service, Walter Milan, said: "The heat is unusual, temperatures in recent days on the peak were above 10 C. That's extreme heat for the peak. "Clearly it's something abnormal".
The injured survivors were taken to several hospitals in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto, one of them in a critical condition.