One of three people killed in an avalanche in the Scottish Highlands yesterday has been named by Northern Constabulary as Rimon Than, 33, a squadron leader based at RAF Valley, North Wales.

Two of the three people who died after an avalanche in the Scottish Highlands were RAF personnel, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed.

The three victims, two men and a woman, were buried after some 13ft of snow gave way in the Chalamain Gap area of the mountainous region.

They were airlifted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, but a man and woman were declared dead last night and the second man, who was critically ill, died early today.

They were airlifted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, but a man and woman were declared dead last night and the second man, who was critically ill, died early today.

An MoD spokesman said: "MoD can confirm that two RAF personnel were killed following an avalanche in the Cairngorms yesterday.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those who have lost their lives. Next of kin have been informed.

"We would ask the media to respect the privacy of the families concerned at this difficult time."

Northern Constabulary said inquiries into the avalanche are ongoing.

The deaths take the number of lives lost on Scotland's mountains to nine in less than a month.

Locals said the area is not normally known for avalanches. It is feared a rapid rise in temperatures after previous a snowfall may have contributed to the incident.

Those caught up in yesterday's events were among two parties of six climbers who were walking through the deep, rocky cleft in the Cairngorms, five miles south-east of Aviemore, not far from the ski slopes.  One group was part of a Glenmore Lodge organised winter skills training course and the second was a separate group comprising off duty RAF personnel who were climbing in the area.

After the three people were buried, others escaped and raised the alarm at 12.30pm.

More than 50 people were involved in the search.

David Rutledge, the training officer for Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team, was involved in controlling the operation from the team's base.

He said: "The phone call came into the team leader, reporting there was an avalanche with multiple burials."

Two helicopters from RAF Lossiemouth were then involved in the operation.

He said: "We had a helicopter here quickly. We had three doctors available who were able to get to the scene.

"This was a fairly contained scenario. We were able to deal with an incident which was relatively close to the roadside, within a mile of the ski road and in a very contained area.

"From that perspective, no search was necessary. The key aspect to this was to get people there as quickly as possible."

The first person was found in under two hours, and the others were retrieved just before 3pm.

Describing the weather conditions, he said: "Snow conditions would have been affected massively by the weather we've had in the last few days, but significantly temperatures were rising throughout the day and that will have had an effect on what was going on.

"Wind speeds were quite high this morning and all of those things have a contributing factor to the snow conditions."

Dave Fallows, a councillor for Badenoch and Strathspey, said: "The Chalamain Gap is not a location you would normally associate with avalanches. It's relatively low level and perhaps one of the less dangerous areas in the Cairngorms. That goes to show you less dangerous is a relative term in these conditions.

"When you have had a lot of snow and then a rapid rise in temperature, it is dangerous. It is a hostile environment."

First Minister Alex Salmond said: "My thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends of those who have sadly been killed in this tragic accident, as well as those who are still being cared for in hospital."

Northern Constabulary said no more information would be issued until formal identification had taken place and next of kin were informed.

The first deaths this year occurred on January 19, when four climbers died on Glencoe. Since then there have been fatalities on Ben Nevis and, earlier this week, another man died on the Cairngorms.

The Sportscotland Avalanche Information Service had set the avalanche risk as considerable for some part of the Cairngorms. This is the third of five levels of hazard, which means natural avalanches are possible and human triggered avalanches are likely.

Mark Diggins, co-ordinator of the Sportscotland Avalanche Information Service, described the rescue effort which took place yesterday.

"With an incident like this, the important thing was to get there as quickly as possible," he said.

"People from everywhere were brought in, from Cairngorm mountain rescue, ski patrol, engineers, a whole range of people went in there as rapidly as they possibly could and worked incredibly hard, digging to try and locate the casualties as quickly as possible.

"A lot of people put a fantastic amount of effort in to try and get the people out."

Mr Diggins heard about the incident when he was on the mountains as part of his work. He made his way across to the location and joined in the rescue effort.

He said it has been a "challenging" winter in the area in terms of the weather conditions.

"There have been violent winds, very changeable conditions and that has an effect on the snow pack," he said.

"That's the situation that we had, and still have, in that there is a weakness deep down that is sort of hidden by the fresh deposits of wind-slab snow that are above that layer."

Mr Diggins advised people to keep an eye on the daily avalanche report if they are heading to the mountains.

He added: "If you are in a party and you are avalanched then the most important thing is to shout because your companions with you are your best chance of survival.

"If you shout, they hopefully will watch you go into the debris and, if you get buried, they can track that and they can go into the place where you were last seen."

The tragedy happened at a western entrance to the Lairig Ghru, Scotland's most famous high mountain pass, which rises to almost 2740ft connecting Speyside to Deeside.