At least eight people are presumed dead and several others critically injured  after a group of high school students and their  teachers on a ski slope were hit by an avalanche in central Japan.

According to Japanese officials, the ugly incident occurred on Monday morning in Nasu, 160 km north of Tokyo, where 52 high school students from different institutions, accompanied by 11 teachers, were climbing a ski slope.

Although Japanese authorities do not declare victims dead until a certified doctor makes an official announcement, they have confirmed that eight of the recovered bodies “showed no vital signs.”

“We have avalanche incidents once or twice in a year around here, but haven’t had anything this big,” a fire department official said.

As rescue operations continue, the Japanese Fire and Disaster Management Agency has confirmed that many of the rescued students and teachers sustained severe injuries and are in critical condition.