Student 'froze to death' on Alps holiday

Tributes were paid tonight to a British student who froze to death on a skiing holiday in the French Alps after falling into an icy river.

Rachel Ward, 20, a Durham University undergraduate, was found dead in the resort of Val d'Isere yesterday morning.

She apparently slipped on ice and plunged into the Isere River while walking home alone from a night out with friends.

Shortly before her death the student left a message on a friend's phone saying she was lost, local media reported.

One theory is that she decided to cross the river to take a short cut but fell in and could not get out.

French police said the death was a tragic accident, and they are not looking for anyone else.

The student's parents have travelled to Val d'Isere, where they are being assisted by British consular officials.

Miss Ward, from Halifax, West Yorkshire, was in France with friends on a ski and snowboarding holiday with travel operator On the Piste.

Teachers and friends described a "talented and popular" student who was gifted both academically and on the sports field.

She was a member of Durham University Hockey Club and also acted as its treasurer.

Her heartbroken team mates said they could not put into words how much they would miss her.

Club captain Phil Mutlow said: "She was always there to help everyone in the club, whether it be for financial advice or just for a friendly chat.

"Rachel was one of the best - she always had a smile on her face and was lovely to be around.

"The club are absolutely devastated that someone so young and with so much talent and enthusiasm for life could be taken in such a horrific way."

Miss Ward's principal at Durham University's Collingwood College, Professor Ed Corrigan, said her fellow students were being offered counselling.

"Everyone in Collingwood is shocked by Rachel's tragic death," he said.

"She was a bright, popular student, who was academically talented and enjoyed participating in sport and other college activities.

"She will be missed by all of us. We extend our deeply felt sympathy to her family and to her many friends."

On the Piste, based in Withington, Manchester, specialises in student skiing holidays.

Those on holiday with the company are given a special wristband that get them cut-price drinks.

Its website says: "On the Piste know that one of the most important elements of an unforgettable holiday are nights out in the bars and clubs."

On the Piste said it would support Miss Ward's parents in any way it could.

The company said in a statement: "Our staff are doing everything possible to assist the family and local authorities.

"Senior managers are in-resort to accompany the family in addition to supporting local staff and customers who may have been affected."

Miss Ward was a pupil at Bradford Girls' Grammar School, where she achieved straight As and A*s in her GCSEs and captained the hockey team.

Her headmistress, Lynda Warrington, described her as a "lovely and friendly personality" who was always ready to offer a helping hand.

She then went to Greenhead College in Huddersfield to do her A-levels. She went on several ski trips with the school.

Martin Rostron, the college's principal, said: "Rachel was a wonderful young lady.

"She was very bright and very gifted, both as an academic and in terms of her sporting abilities as she was a county hockey player."

* Miss Ward's death came just days after two young British friends were killed in a climbing accident in the French Alps. On Saturday Rob Gauntlett, 21, the youngest Briton to climb Mount Everest, and James Atkinson, also 21, plunged to their deaths in the Chamonix region on a route on the east face of Mont Blanc.