Four climbers who died in an avalanche fell around 1,000 feet and ended up buried under six feet of snow, it emerged today.

Andy Nelson, deputy head of Glencoe Mountain Rescue, said being caught in an avalanche was "a brutal experience".

The two men and two women were found dead yesterday after the accident on Bidean Nam Bian, a Munro in Glencoe.

Three of the four fatalities were named tonight as Una Rachel Finnegan, 25, from County Antrim, Northern Ireland; Christopher William Bell, 24, from Blackpool, Lancashire; and Tom Chesters, 28, who was living in Leeds.

Ms Finnegan was a junior doctor who had been living in Edinburgh, Mr Bell was studying for a Phd in ocean-mapping in Oban and Mr Chesters was a PhD student at Hull University.

A second woman was also killed in the accident, although her next of kin have asked for her name to be withheld until her extended family have been informed.

A 24-year-old unnamed woman from the Durham area has been moved to the Southern General in Glasgow and remains in a critical condition, Northern Constabulary said. Relatives are with her.

The sixth member of the party escaped using his ice axe to anchor himself. The survivor, who has asked for his name to be withheld, said the party were all experienced winter walkers who loved the mountains.

He said in a statement issued through police: "Yesterday, five of my friends and I were descending a mountain in Glencoe in an area known as Church Door Buttress when the party was swept away by a snow avalanche.

"It is with much sadness and deep regret that some of my friends have died as a result.

"All in the group loved the mountains and are experienced winter walkers.

"Can I ask that the deceased families and I are allowed to grieve in privacy at this difficult time.

"My sincere thanks go to members of the public, mountain rescue teams and other emergency services who assisted."

Mr Nelson, who co-ordinated the rescue, said: "Being in an avalanche is literally like standing on a carpet and having it pulled out from underneath you. Any thoughts of trying to swim out from out of it is futile.

"You are on steep ground, essentially standing on a raft of snow that is sliding downhill at speeds of maybe 40mph to 50mph.

"It would have unfolded in a split second, they would have felt the snow moving and then they would have been travelling at a speed that was impossible to stop.

"The man that survived was standing above the snow and we think he actually jumped and got his ice axe into firmer snow.

"They slid over some very rocky ground and ended up about 1,000 feet below, under between 1.5 and two metres of snow.

"It's a brutal experience. There are enormous forces at work and you are being twisted about at high speed."

Superintendent Philip MacRae said: "Our thoughts are with the families and all those who are affected by this tragic incident. Members of the climbing party were from different parts of the UK and a priority for us has been to trace and inform all next of kin. They have now been informed and we have family liaison officers in place."

Jonathan Hart, chairman of the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland, said: "This was a tragic event and I speak on behalf of all the mountain rescue team members involved when I say our hearts go out to the casualties and the families of all those involved.

"People come from all over the UK and the world to experience and enjoy the mountain scenery and sports in this part of Scotland. Mountain rescue teams train for these kind of incidents and indeed there was a national Scottish Mountain Rescue course on this weekend on avalanche rescue, taking place in the Nevis range.

He added: "Everything possible was done, as part of an outstanding multi-agency response, to increase the opportunities for survival of the casualties and take them off the mountain before the hours of darkness. It is very sad that there has been such a tragic outcome."

The Rev Moira Herkes, who led a service at St Munda's Church in nearby Ballachulish, said prayers for those who had died.

She told the congregation: "We include in our prayers thoughts for the deceased in yesterday's tragic accident on the mountain and their families.

"Somehow life must continue. We accept the challenges of nature as part of our living."

She added: "We also pray for the people who are injured, both physically and emotionally.

"And we give our thanks to those prepared to risk their lives in the saving of others, and do so with a sense of commitment and through thinking beyond themselves."

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has called it "an appalling tragedy", saying "to lose four people from a party of six is truly devastating".

He thanked the police and mountain rescue teams, adding: "Our immediate thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who have been lost."