OSLO, Norway (AP) _ An avalanche of snow today hit Norwegian soldiers engaged in a NATO winter exercise, leaving at least seven soldiers dead, nine injured and another 11 missing, military and police officials said.

Hundreds of soldiers, six helicopters and civilian rescue teams with dogs searched into the evening for the missing soldiers, but rescue efforts were hampered by wind and snowfall, NRK radio said.

Lt. Col. Gunnar Mjell of the maneuver's information office said all the soldiers involved were Norwegian. The NTB new agency quoted him as saying the dead men were brought to hospitals in Harstad and Narvik, 900 miles northeast of Oslo.

Narvik police spokesman Ivar Schjoell said on NRK radio that 11 soldiers were missing.

NRK radio reported from Narvik that 27 of 30 members of a Norwegian skiing patrol were hit by the avalanche near Elvegaardsmoen army base in Vassdalen, 22 miles north of Narvik.

It said surviving soldiers reported the accident by portable radio, but the wireless connection was so poor the first reports were confusing and conflicting.

Col. Lars Markhus, head of the maneuver's information office, was first quoted by NTB as saying only eight soldiers were hit by the avalanche.

NRK radio reported earlier from the military operation center at Bardu, northeast of Narvik, that five soldiers were treated for minor injuries at a Narvik hospital.

About 20,000 soldiers from all 10 member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were involved in the exercise, called Anchor Express, being held throughout northern Norway until March 13. About 15,000 Norwegian soldiers are taking part.