Three British climbers killed in avalanche on 'Cursed Mountain'

Nine dead in worst such disaster in Alps for years – but relief as two other Britons are found alive

Three British mountaineers were confirmed to be among nine people killed by an avalanche in the French Alps yesterday but there was relief last night as two further missing UK climbers walked into a police station to declare they were safe.

The mass of snow and rocks that enveloped the multinational group early in the morning, 4,000m up the north face of Mont Maudit – which translates as "Cursed Mountain" – was described as "the most deadly of recent years" by the local authorities.

Alongside the three Germans, two Spaniards and one Swiss national who died, the three British fatalities included Roger Payne, an avalanche survival instructor and a former general secretary of the British Mountaineering Council.

The organisation's vice-president, Ed Douglas, said Mr Payne "was one of the UK's most enthusiastic and respected climbers, with a track record of Alpine and Himalayan mountaineering stretching back to the 1980s". He added: "Wherever you were in the world – in an Alpine hut, a film festival in the States or a committee meeting in Manchester – you were pleased to see him. He will be sorely missed."

When the search parties were called off the mountain due to bad weather yesterday evening, it looked likely that two more British climbers and a pair of Spaniards, who all remained unaccounted for, would be added to the list of victims.

Yet the crisis centre in Chamonix later surprised everyone when it announced that all four had presented themselves at the town's police station, having taken a different route.

Fifteen of the 28-strong expedition, who had been roped together for safety in two teams, had earlier been rescued from the side of the 4,465m-high mountain before being flown to hospital, many with broken bones.

News that the last missing climbers had survived was particularly welcome for the teams of rescue personnel due to return to the slopes this morning with the threat of a further avalanche hanging over them. Using heat-seeking devices and trained mountain dogs, they worked all day yesterday to find survivors and the bodies of the dead.

The mountaineers had set off from a hut in the early hours, only for the "slab avalanche" to strike without warning and in good weather conditions. The alarm was raised by one of those caught in the snow at 5.25am.

Though a full investigation is yet to be carried out, there were early suggestions that it could have been caused by a climber who accidentally loosened an ice sheet while crossing it, sending a blanket of snow at least 2m deep careering down.

"We had no more reason than usual to be alarmed," Jean-Louis Verdier, mayor of Chamonix, said. "It's a steep mountain face. There are big plates of snow we know of where an avalanche can easily occur. But this morning we had no reason to expect an avalanche of this size and such a tragedy."

The death toll on the slope, which is a popular route for climbers heading to the summit of the adjacent Mont Blanc, exceeded the eight killed on the nearby Mont Blanc du Tacul in 2008.

Case study: 'I was pulled 2km down a mountain in under a minute'

In March 2008 the snowboarding champion Xavier De Le Rue survived an avalanche on the slopes of Le Châtelet in Switzerland.

"Avalanches are a hazard for snowboarders. They're not something you can prepare for, other than having the right equipment and mapping out an exit strategy. My skiing counterpart and I were out with a camera crew, filming descents. It had been snowing a lot, so I was taking things slowly at the beginning. But then things were going well, so I started being less careful. Stupidly, I hadn't checked out my exit in case a slab of snow broke off. It started as a pretty localised affair; the slab was crashing down 10m behind me. I was ahead of the slide and moved sideways to escape it.

"Suddenly, it was all around me, for 50m on either side. Thankfully, I'd started using a rucksack with an airbag mechanism days before. I was floating on a sea of snow – like a small insect on a huge wave. This undoubtedly saved my life. All I could do was pull the trigger and hope for the best. A big warning light blinked in my head and then I was back in the tsunami. The impact of the fall knocked me unconscious, and I was pulled 2km down the mountain in less than a minute. I remember the feeling of being dragged downwards, and then a blur. I was transferred to hospital after my friends found me at the bottom of the slope. I was in shock but, in fact, I had only twisted a knee ligament and was concussed for a few hours."

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Sport
Peter Moores was criticised for failing to handle top players when he last led the England team
sportFive years after being sacked from the job, Peter Moores to be named a cricket coach
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit