'Hopes fading fast' at avalanche hotel
Hopes of finding more survivors in the avalanche-hit Italian mountain resort of Farindola are fading fast.
Fifteen bodies have so far been recovered from the Hotel Rigopiano, which was buried under thousands of tons of snow when four powerful earthquakes hit central Italy on Wednesday last week.
Nine people have been pulled out alive from the rubble, three of whom are still in hospital in nearby Pescara.
Fourteen people remain unaccounted for.
In a separate incident, six people died yesterday when a helicopter crashed in thick fog in nearby mountains.
The aircraft came down near the Campo Felice ski station after picking up an injured skier.
Rescue crews at the Rigopiano have been buoyed by the discovery of three puppies at the hotel - though they stressed they were found in a boiler room far from where the missing people are thought to be.
Firefighters' spokesman Alberto Maiolo said search crews aided by heavy digging equipment were finally able to penetrate the snow-covered central part of the hotel, but there were no sign of life other than the puppies.
"Logically, hopes fade as time passes, but we are continuing to search and trying to do it as quickly as possible," he said.
Crowds gathered outside a hilltop church to pay their respects to Alessandro Giancaterino, the hotel's chief waiter, who was one of the first victims to be pulled from the rubble.
Mr Giancaterino should not have been in the hotel at the time of the avalanche.
He offered to stay behind at the end of his shift to spare a colleague making his way to the hotel through the snow, which was up to 9ft thick.
"He was a great hard worker," said his brother, Massimiliano. "He was very professional.
"This is the memory that I want to keep of my brother, beyond the private ones that I keep in my heart."
Prosecutors are investigating whether missed communications, underestimations of risks and delays in responding to days of heavy snowfall contributed to the death toll.