Avalanche victims all 'good skiers': Mountain experience and fitness aids survivor who tells medical partner that he is 'shocked, but lucky to be alive'

ONE OF the victims of Saturday's avalanche at Val d'Isere was a woman doctor who only decided at the last minute to join her husband so that she could go skiing.

Ann Gillingham and her husband Jeremy, a conference assessor, both 44, came from Bridgend on Tayside. Her father-in-law, Professor John Gillingham, said yesterday that his first thought on learning of his son and daughter-in-law's deaths was one of 'disbelief'.

Professor Gillingham, a retired specialist in neurological surgery at Edinburgh University, said: 'They have been skiing for many years - since they were seven or eight years of age. They would have been very aware of any potential dangers.'

Dr Gillingham and his wife were both general practitioners and he also lectured at Dundee University. Their son Mark, 18, is a student at Edinburgh University, and daughter Melissa, 16, is a boarder at Strathallan School in Perth. They were skiing at Glenshee in the Highlands yesterday when Prof Gillingham broke the news to them.

Another of the victims, Jan Hofmeyr, 38, a partner in a Reading surgery, was to due to be joined by his wife Janet, a physiotherapist at Battle Hospital in Reading, for the second week of his stay.

She left home yesterday morning and heard the news of his death when she arrived in Geneva, from where she phoned Jan's father, John, 77, at his home in Goring on Thames, Oxfordshire.

Dr John Hofmeyr said: 'Janet phoned us just after noon today and it came totally out of the blue. Obviously it came as a great shock to us. He was a good skiier and had been to Val d'Isere three or four times before and had been skiing every year since he was a schoolboy.'

Dr Hofmeyr was an all-round sportsman who excelled at hockey at London University, where he qualified in 1970 after training at the Royal London Hospital. His two children, Paul, 6, and Kathy, 4, were being comforted by relatives.

The fourth victim, Dr Claire Webber, had a practice based at Pound House in Bourne End, near High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. Her father, Howard, 66, a retired businessman, said: 'She was devoted to her profession and she was also a great sportswoman. She particularly loved skiing.'

A medical colleague said: 'She was totally professional, the sort of woman you could ring up at four o'clock in the morning and she wouldn't grumble.'

Dr Webber, 33, was single and shared a cottage with her brother Mark in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. She qualified at London University and trained at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington.

The fifth victim, Dr Howard Fleet, who was in his late forties, was a consultant paediatrician at High Wycombe General Hospital. He leaves a wife and two children, who live at Little Kingshill, Buckinghamshire.

Susan Harding, administrator at High Wycombe General Hospital, said: 'I'm sure his former colleagues and patients will be devastated by this news. He was a very well respected and an excellent doctor - one of the most popular people in the organisation.'

The French guide who died was Hugo Ferrier, 30, who had been instructing ski parties in Val D'Isere for a number of years.

Dr Christopher Ackner, who survived the avalanche, is one of eight partners at a surgery in Penryn, Cornwall. He suffered shock but no serious injuries and is due to leave hospital in Bourg St Maurice today. He got in touch with the surgery yesterday to reassure colleagues he was all right and added that he was 'lucky to be alive'.

Dr Michael Ellis, one of his partners, said that Dr Ackner, in his 40s, had been skiing for about 30 years, and was very experienced and fit, which helped to save his life. 'A lot of the partners go skiing, myself included, but none of us is in his league,' he added. Dr Ackner, who is married with two young children, Ben and Emily, has been a partner in the Penryn surgery for about seven years. His wife, Dee, had spoken to him from their home near Falmouth, Dr Ellis said.

Two climbers died in separate accidents as gales swept the Welsh and Scottish mountains. Colette Fleetwood, 29, of Bristol, suffered fatal injuries in a fall on Snowdon.

In Scotland, Richard Gleed, 21, from Altringham, Cheshire died after he plunged through a snow hole and landed in a freezing mountain stream in Glencoe.

(Photographs omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

ERP Business/ Implementation Analyst

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...

Engineering Design Manager (Mechanical)

£35000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: ENGINEERING ...

SSIS Developer Required - Leading Media Company

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A world leading media organisation is cu...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz