Boy, 12, dies on unsupervised hike during school trip to Austria

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The debate over the safety of school trips to far-flung and often dangerous locations looked set to be reignited yesterday after a schoolboy died falling down a mountainside during an unsupervised trek in the Alps.

Hayden Waller, 12, was among four boys on a school excursion who had tried to climb up to a viewing platform near Mallnitz in southern Austria when one of them slipped. As he tried to help his friend, Hayden lost his footing, fell 30 feet and broke his neck. He died instantly.

Hayden's mother, Haley, spoke of the family's devastation at the loss of their "adventurous little boy". "Everyone loved him," she said. "He was the most loveable, likeable child you have ever come across and we are absolutely devastated."

Hayden had been on a skiing trip with fellow pupils from The Howard School in Gillingham, Kent. The local authorities said the four boys had set off on an unsupervised trek on Monday afternoon. As they hiked the short distance up the mountain from their hotel to the viewpoint, they decided to take a short cut across steep open ground.

On the way, Hayden saw his friend lose his footing and slide down. He tried to reach him but fell himself, hitting his head on rocks, police said.

A local police spokesman Herbert Rud said: "There were four boys aged between 12 and 14 who tried to reach a hut from which you have a very good view of the area. Unfortunately they did not use the path, but went across the open area, and they found that the ground got steeper and steeper and stonier and stonier. They had not quite reached the hut when they decided to go back down, but two of them fell. One was killed and the other slightly injured.

"It happened during the late afternoon at a time when the youngsters can enjoy themselves, by going shopping, for example, but the boys decided to go up to the hut."

While one of the two remaining boys stayed with his friends, the other ran down the hillside to fetch help. The emergency services were called and the injured boy was rescued and taken to hospital but it was too late to save Hayden.

A spokesman for the Austrian helicopter rescue team said: "There were a lot of rocks and a lot of snow and so the helicopter could not land directly near the boy. The doctor had to be lowered down to him on a rope. Then the helicopter took the body off the mountain and brought it down."

Hayden's headmaster, Paul Morris, described the accident as a "tragic loss of a lovely young man". "Everyone connected with the school is completely devastated," he said.

Rose Collinson, director of children's services at Medway Council in Kent, said: "My heartfelt sympathies are with Hayden Waller's family and friends and the whole Howard community. We are doing all we can to support the school and we will play a full part in the investigation."

A spokeswoman for the council said there were 39 pupils, supervised by seven teaching staff, on the ski trip at a resort the school had been using for 20 years. The boys had travelled out by coach and been due to stay until next Sunday, but will now be coming home early.

In the past 20 years more than 50 children have been killed on school outings and the past decade has seen the repeated introduction of new health and safety guidance.

Many teachers are now reluctant to organise more adventurous school trips because of fears of litigation. Earlier this month the Government said it planned to cut the red tape surrounding such trips for fear Britain was raising a generation of "battery-farmed" children.