CHUR, Switzerland (AP) _ Investigators dropped a criminal inquiry and cleared Britain's Prince Charles of personal fault after an avalanche that killed one of his close friends and injured another, authorities said today.

The inquiry's outcome ran counter to early speculation in British tabloids that the heir to the throne might face charges.

Authorities said in their statement that the prince, who was skiing in a six-member party March 10, ''cannot be faulted'' for his role. ''Furthermore, according to prevailing opinion, he could not have been prosecuted in Switzerland,'' the investigators said.

They announced they had filed no criminal charges against anyone.

However, the Grisons canton prosecutor's office said the entire party of six skiers, including the prince, did collectively cause the avalanche above the Klosters resort.

''Other causes can be excluded,'' the office said.

Prosecutors said that, by skiing outside official marked runs, the group had assumed a collective risk that excluded any one member from personal responsibility for the accident.

Bruno Sprecher, a Klosters mountain guide who was with the royal party on the excursion, acted in conformity with his duties, they said.

The 39-year-old prince and three other group members, including Sprecher, narrowly escaped the snowslide at about 6,000 feet.

Maj. Hugh Lindsay, 34, a close friend of the prince and a former aide to his mother Queen Elizabeth, died on the spot.

Patricia Palmer-Tomkinson, another friend of the royal family, broke both legs and underwent surgery twice.

The prosecutor's office said the prince never claimed immunity and cooperated fully with investigators from the beginning.

Its statement further noted that a regional avalanche warning was in effect above 5,280 feet on the day of the accident.

The prince was leading the group down an extremely steep, unmarked slope he had skied dozens of times when the snowslide struck, the statement said.

An avid skier, he has been a winter regular at Klosters for years.