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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future