Britons who scaled glacier for charity killed in avalanche

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The Independent Online

Two British snowboarders have died in an avalanche on the Grande Motte glacier just weeks after climbing it to raise money for tsunami survivors.

Two British snowboarders have died in an avalanche on the Grande Motte glacier just weeks after climbing it to raise money for tsunami survivors.

Sam Harber, 25, and James Rourke, 26, were swept away in a torrent of ice, snow and rock so ferocious that the younger man's avalanche beacon was ripped from him, French rescuers said yesterday.

In January the pair had trekked up the glacier, which reaches a height of 11,994ft (3,655m), to raise £18,000 for Sri Lankan victims of the tsunami.

Mr Harber was determined to complete the climb in memory of medical staff who nursed him back to health after a surfing accident, insisted the task was worth the "immense amount of pain". In a reference to a "small fall at the start" of the charity ascent, Mr Harber, from Bury St Edmunds, wrote: "It's an incredibly scary experience hurtling into a black abyss with no control and no idea when you are going to stop."

Explaining how he had at times felt "insignificant amongst the vast natural surroundings of the mountain," he added: "Even though we were all there to help each other, we all had to individually deal with our own mental battles to keep going."

Rui Pinto, his stepfather, paid tribute yesterday to a "friendly, approachable and outgoing" young man.

Mr Harber and Mr Rourke had been working in Val d'Isere for a London company called Snowline VIP. Snowline's managing director, Andy Sturt, said: "James and Sam were loyal, valued and popular members of our team. They will be hugely missed."

The men were off piste on the north face of the Grande Motte Glacier, in the neighbouring resort of Tignes, on Thursday at a time when the avalanche risk was 3 (considerable).

Jean-Louis Tuaillion, director of the Tignes piste station, said the men were caught in a slab avalanche, 500 metres wide and 1.5 metres deep, that broke 10 metres above them at about 3,200 metres.

Thirty rescuers scrambled to locate them using a signal from one of their avalanche beacons. Mr Rourke's body was found the next morning but the search for Mr Harber was called off because of the danger of further avalanches and rock falls.

Explaining his earlier climb in a team of seven, Mr Harber wrote in a diary of the expedition that he had spent three weeks in Sri Lankan hospitals last summer with an infected woundcaused by a fish fin. "I was looked after like a king by all the nurses and doctors who struggled with no equipment, no supplies and, a lot of the time, no sleep. They were amazing.

"I have since learnt that Aragum Bay has been totally destroyed and the majority of my friends have probably died. I really needed to do something to help.

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