Canyoning disaster claimed the lives of three Britons

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The Independent Online
THREE BRITONS died in the Swiss canyoning disaster, it emerged yesterday, as rescue workers combed the area for the two people still missing.

The Britons were named by the Foreign Office as Geoffrey Havard, Andrew Lee, and Glyn Harries. All three men were in their thirties. The parents of Mr Harvard, from Buckinghamshire, and who one of the guides, flew to Switzerland last night to help identify his body.

Mr Lee, originally New Zealand, is said to have a girlfriend living in London who was also on her way to Interlaken. Mr Harries was born in the UK but moved to Australia 10 years ago, taking dual Australian nationality. Swiss authorities were contacting his next of kin in Perth, Western Australia, a Foreign Office spokesman said. Forensic scientists trying to identify the other victims said the process could take weeks because of the battering they took in the Saxeten gorge and because they had few personal belongings on them.

The first victim to be named was Karin Muller, a 30-year-old Swiss woman, who was one of the three guides who died.

Last night, 20 young people who were in the same holiday group were believed to be on their way back to London by coach. As questions continued to be raised about why the expedition went ahead in bad weather, Contiki, the Kent-based tour operator with whom many of the victims booked their holiday, insisted it bore no responsibility for the tragedy.

"We are not being investigated," said Gordon Dirker, head of European sales. "We were not in charge of what happened. We were not the operator with local expertise. We had checked out the local firm. We would not have worked with them if they didn't have a good reputation. They adhere to the Swiss requirements." He said Adventure World, the canyoning operator, required customers to sign a waiver.

Most of those on the expedition were from Australia and New Zealand. At least 13 Australians were among the dead. They had set out from London by coach on 7 and 12 July.

Candles and a wreath of sunflowers yesterday marked the spot where the 44 tourists and eight guides began their fateful journey into the gorge. Investigators have established that the adventurers had split into four groups. The first and last groups escaped almost unscathed, but the middle groups took the full brunt of the torrent.

The immediate cause of death was drowning in most cases, but many of the victims who have already been examined suffered lacerations and brain injuries. Several lost their helmets and shoes as the swollen river carried them towards the lake below.

Questions continued to be asked about why they were in the gorge at that time. The local fire brigade confirmed yesterday it had sent a man to the gorge to warn the group about the worsening weather. The guides replied they knew the river well.

Local people say they cannot understand why Adventure World did not heed the warnings when it was obvious a storm was brewing. "I was watching the weather about two hours before that," Fritz Imboden, a mountain guide, said yesterday. "I could see that a storm was coming." Mr Imboden said conditions were particularly hazardous this year because of the unusually high snowfall last winter.

"The earth is soaked through," he said. "When the water comes, all the loose stones are swept down. And then it's good-bye."

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