Service held for nine killed in avalanche

Three British climbers among those mourned after last week's disaster in the French Alps

A memorial service was held yesterday for nine climbers, including three British men, killed in an avalanche in the French Alps.

The names of the people killed were read out during the afternoon service at the Eglise Saint-Michel in the ski resort of Chamonix and candles were lit.

The three Britons, Steve Barber, John Taylor and Roger Payne, died as they traversed Mont Maudit, in the Mont Blanc range near Chamonix in the early hours of Thursday morning. French authorities believe wind triggered the avalanche, which also killed three Germans, two Spaniards and a Swiss climber.

"They left us too quickly, like a flame extinguished too soon by a violent gust of wind before it could give its full light," Father Georges Vigliano, the parish priest of Chamonix, told people at the service, according to the BBC.

Mr Payne, 55, was one of the country's most respected climbers and a former general secretary of the British Mountaineering Council. Yesterday, his brother, Keith Pritchard, told Sky News he was a "wonderful guy". "I said to Mum, keep calm and carry on, and just remember he died doing what he loved," he said.

Mr Payne, originally from Hammersmith, west London, is understood to have been living in Leysin, Switzerland, with his New Zealand-born wife, Julie-Ann Clyma, also an experienced mountaineer.

Mr Barber, 47, and Mr Taylor, 48, who both lived on the same street in Upper Poppleton, near York, were attempting the climb to raise money for St Leonard's Hospice in York. Last night, nearly 200 people had made donations, totalling more than £3,600, on Mr Barber's page on the JustGiving fundraising website. Before the news of his death, there had been donations of about £300.

A spokesman for St Leonard's told the BBC that staff and patients at the hospice were "moved by the donations". "If anything at all good has come of this dreadful story, I think it's the fact that people are helping the hospice and helping people in York and the surrounding area who have life-threatening illnesses," he said. "We're always grateful for any support that we can get, even in very sad circumstances like this."

Donna Rogers, the long-term partner of Mr Barber, with whom he had a 10-year-old daughter, Francesca, said he had been training hard for the ascent. "He always wanted to climb Mont Blanc, an ambition that this trip was to fulfil," she said.

Karine Taylor said her husband, father to Emma, 10, and Louise, eight, had climbed Mont Blanc twice before, and was a "highly respected climber" and an active member of mountain rescue teams. "We are all truly devastated," she said.

The families have thanked the mountain rescue teams who tried to save them.