Survivors of an avalanche which claimed the lives of nine climbers including three Britons have described how they were tossed around as if in a washing machine as hundreds of tonnes of ice and snow smashed into them silently and without warning.
Two of those killed in the deadly avalanche as they traversed Mont Maudit in the Mont Blanc range near Chamonix were neighbours in the same quiet village near York.
Steve Barber, 47, and John Taylor, 48, were close friends whose children attended the local school in Upper Poppleton. They had been making the climb in aid of a local hospice.
French authorities said the highly experienced international climbing party had taken no unnecessary risks leading up to the tragedy and there were no specific warnings in the area. The slip is believed to have been the result of heavy snow and strong winds causing the collapse of an ice cliff higher up the mountain. It could also have been triggered by another climber.
One of the survivors, Daniel Rossetto, a 63-year-old guide who was leading two Danish climbers, told Le Parisien newspaper that he and his party found themselves dangling “like a sausage” from their ropes at 13,100ft.
“We were on the edge of the avalanche – that was our fortune – while the other climbers were held under by masses of snow,” he said.
Mr Rossetto said the snow and ice hit “without sound, just a gust”. He added: “You are trapped inside, it tosses you around. With each shock, you ask yourself if it’s going to get worse. It’s like I was in a washing machine.”
The families of the two Britons spoke of their shock and distress. The two men shared a love of climbing, their partners said. Mr Taylor, a finance director, had climbed Mont Blanc twice before, having taken up the sport in 1998. He was a highly regarded member of mountain rescue teams. He leaves his wife Karine and daughters Emma, 10, and Louise, 8.
Mr Barber, 47, also an experienced mountaineer, was attempting to climb Mont Blanc for the first time. The company finance accountant had lived in the village for most of his life where his parents ran the local Post Office before retiring.
“Steve, like John, loved the outdoors and was a keen walker,” his partner Donna Rogers said. “He always wanted to climb Mont Blanc, an ambition that this trip was to fulfill. He had been training hard for the ascent and had successfully completed several challenging climbs in Europe and in the UK prior to this trip.”
Mr Barber leaves a 10-year-old daughter, Francesca.
The avalanche also claimed the lives of the former head of the British Mountaineering Council, Roger Payne, three Germans, two Spaniards and a Swiss climber, as well as injuring 14 others. Two other Britons survived the fall.
They were part of a group of 28 adventurers who had left a mountain hut before dawn to take on Western Europe’s highest peak. This is one of the worst losses of life in recent times in an area which sees up to 10 accidents a day at this time of year.
Jean-Louis Verdier, the deputy mayor of Chamonix and also a mountain guide, said: “We didn’t get any alerts of avalanche risks, but we do not always see that risk, and only when we are on (the ice sheet) we unfortunately realise that there is an avalanche danger. But yesterday, nothing alerted us, nothing indicated that that drama could happen.”
A church service will be held in Chamonix today to remember the victims.
Climber’s JustGiving site sees spike in donations
The internet charity giving site set up by British climber Steve Barber received a surge of donations as news of the tragedy spread.
Tonight dozens of well-wishers had promised money to help St Leonard’s Hospice in York with the total reaching £1,400 on justgiving.com /stevebarber.
Mr Barber and neighbour John Taylor had been climbing Western Europe’s highest peak to raise money for the cause. One donor said: “We did not know you personally but our thoughts and prayers are with the families.”
Earlier this year hairdresser Claire Squires died while running the London Marathon. Donations to her charity site eventually topped £1m.