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
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering