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British hikers who fell to death in Alps named as Peter and Charlie Saunders

The two were exploring a dangerous mountain trail

A father and son who fell to their deaths while on a hiking trip in the French Alps have been named as Peter Saunders, 48, and Charlie, 12.

Their bodies were found by rescue services near Europe's highest peak, Mont Blanc, yesterday morning.

Mr Saunders, who is believed to be from Buckinghamshire, had called for help at 2pm local time on Saturday after Charlie fell down a cliff on a mountain trail in the Chamonix Valley. It is thought he died trying to rescue his son.

A statement issued by their family last night said: "Peter and Charlie Saunders had flown to the French Alps for a short weekend of adventure in the Chamonix Valley. They were to have a half day walking followed by a full day skiing.

"Charlie was always full of life, had a really happy temperament and loved spending time with his father. Peter was fantastic at making things happen, resourceful, with a positive approach to life. They will both be sorely missed by friends and family alike."

The family also thanked the French rescue services and asked for its privacy to be respected.

After flying into Geneva airport in Switzerland, the pair had set out on a hike known as Le Couloir des Bossons on Saturday morning. The trail, described by police as "very steep" with slippery rocks, is not recommended to be climbed in winter.

They are thought to have fallen "several hundred metres" to their deaths at an area of the valley known as "La Jonction".

According to French media, the father and son took a chairlift from Bossons village to the bottom of the Bossons Glacier at around 4,500ft.

They then began ascending La Jonction between the Bossons and Taconnaz glaciers – the route taken by the first Frenchmen to climb the 15,780ft Mount Blanc in 1786. The rescue centre at Annecy, in South-eastern France, received a brief call from the father at around 2pm on Saturday, saying that his son had fallen and disappeared.

"We think the father tried to find his son after he called us and asked for rescue. We believe he fell as he tried to find his son," Capt Patrice Ribes, the deputy commander of the mountain rescue gendarmerie at Chamonix, said. Moments later, before the man could give precise details of his location, the call was cut off.

Initial reports suggest the father had fallen to his death while on the telephone with rescue services. Both were said not to be wearing climbing equipment on the snowy trail.

It took until yesterday to discover the bodies due to the huge search area involved, Capt Ribes said.

The boy appeared to have fallen 300 metres while his father fell around 200 metres, investigators said.

Capt Ribes said: "They had equipment for a day's hiking with trekking-type shoes but not suited to the winter mountains with snow and ice."

Mountain guides said the routes around Mont Blanc had been covered in snow over the weekend.

"The footpaths usually don't get that many people out at this time of year because they are much more difficult to navigate," said Richard Mansfield, a guide who has worked at Chamonix.