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2 believed to be skiers caught in avalanche in Nagano Pref. found dead

This photo taken on Jan. 30, 2023, shows Tsugaike Mountain Resort in Otari, Nagano Prefecture in central Japan. (Kyodo)

NAGANO (Kyodo) -- Two male skiers who went missing after being caught in an avalanche in central Japan's Nagano Prefecture over the weekend have been confirmed dead, police said Monday.

    A total of 13 foreign nationals were backcountry skiing in three groups when the avalanche occurred Sunday on a 2,100-meter-high mountain slope, with two going missing. Two men showing no vital signs were found the following morning by a search and rescue team.

    Japanese police have yet to make public the identities of the two deceased skiers.

    NBC reported that Kyle Smaine, a 31-year-old professional freestyle skier based in Lake Tahoe, California, was one of the men killed in the accident, quoting his family. Smaine won the halfpipe event at the 2015 world championship.

    Of the 13 skiing outside of patrolled areas near the Tsugaike Mountain Resort in the village of Otari when the avalanche struck, 11 descended the mountain safely.

    In total, four men were caught up in the avalanche with two managing to escape, the police said Monday, amending its initial assessment that five men and women had been caught in it.

    One of the skiers initially reported by local rescuers as having broken an arm had instead suffered a dislocated right shoulder, according to the police.

    The police started their search early Monday after being unable to immediately begin Sunday due to weather conditions and other factors. The avalanche occurred at around 2:30 p.m.

    An avalanche advisory had been issued for the northern Nagano region, including the village.

    The Japan Meteorological Agency said the region had received heavy snowfall over the past few days and had warned of a risk of "surface avalanches" due to an unstable snowpack.

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