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Skiers and mountaineers were left dead after snow engulfed part of the Swiss Alps, popular with visitors from the United Kingdom and other European countries.

Bad weather in the Pigne d'Arolla area of the Swiss Alps on Sunday had caught the group of skiers by surprise.

They were caught off-guard by high winds, snows and cold and were forced to spend the night outdoors, according to a police spokesman.

"Late in the evening on April 30, a fifth victim died", police in Valais canton said in a statement.

A vast rescue operation, including seven helicopters, was launched in the area early on Monday before the hikers were found. The route, with several variations, takes between a week and 12 days with overnight stops in mountain cabins and small inns and hotels.

But they became stranded in the bad snowstorm and were forced to spend the night outside, something which they are not thought to have been properly equipped for.

The alarm was raised when the skiers failed to arrive at a mountaintop cabin more than 3,000m (9,850ft) above sea level.

Rescuers found a total of 14 people, some of whom had hypothermia, while another had probably died as a result of a fall.

A further five are in hospital with "mild hypothermia" but their lives are not thought to be in danger, police said last night.

The victims are understood to be from France, Germany and Italy. Overnight, as an unexpected storm intensified, the temperature plunged to minus 10C.