Four mountaineers reportedly died in a freak accident after a piece of an Alpine glacier broke off and crashed into more than a dozen people in Italy on Sunday, July 3. 

At least six people were killed and nine were reportedly injured after a large chunk of an alpine glacier in the Marmolada range in Italy broke loose, slid down a mountainside, and crashed into hikers.

The injured mountaineers were subsequently flown to several hospitals in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto for treatment. The glacier, located in the Marmolada range, is the largest in the Dolomite mountains in northeastern Italy and is a popular tourist destination for skiing in the winter. However, the glacier has been rapidly melting away in recent years, ABC News reported.

Meanwhile, Gianpaolo Bottacin, who serves as a local civil protection official, revealed that the situation at the scene was “evolving” and that there could be perhaps 15 more people missing. Rescuers were reported to have been checking license plates in the parking lot to determine how many people might be unaccounted for. 

Meanwhile, rescue operations using helicopters and dogs to search for any more victims or missing persons had to be halted since blocks of ice were continuing to tumble down. 

“We saw dead (people) and enormous chunks of ice, rock,″ exhausted-looking rescuer Luigi Felicetti said. 

The nationalities or ages of the people who died in the accident weren’t immediately available.

Meanwhile, according to the experts who work at Italy’s state-run CNR research center, which has a polar sciences institute, a majority of the glacier's volume has already melted and gone and the glacier is not expected to last for more than 25-30 years, the Guardian reported.

The Mediterranean basin, which is shared by southern Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa, has been identified by U.N. experts as a “climate change hot spot,” which means it is more likely to suffer heat waves and water shortages, among other consequences.

Even though it wasn’t immediately clear what caused the section of ice to break away and rush down the peak’s slope, an intense heat wave that has been gripping Italy since late June is believed to be a possible factor behind the accident.

mountain-gd77897a2b_1920 Four mountaineers reportedly died in a freak accident after a piece of an Alpine glacier broke off and crashed into more than a dozen people in Italy on Sunday, July 3. This is a representational image. Pixabay/ jmarti20