The Black Seeds
Love Me Now
Haroon Siddique and agencies, Friday 13th July 2012 11:40
Two more Britons killed in an avalanche that claimed the lives of nine climbers on one of the satellite peaks of Mont Blanc have been named by the Foreign Office.
Steve Barber and John Taylor, both from York, died on Thursday above the French town of Chamonix, along with a third Briton, Roger Payne, who had already been named. Payne was an experienced mountain guide and former general secretary of the British Mountaineering Council.
Barber and Taylor were from the village of Upper Poppleton, a York councillor said.
Ian Gillies, leader of York council's Conservative group, who represents Upper Poppleton, said: "Devastated doesn't cover it. I'm sure the people in the village and the wider community will provide the support the families need, not only now but for weeks to come."
The avalanche happened just before 5.30am on Thursday when ice from a cliff high on Mont Maudit – the "cursed mountain" – appears to have fallen on to the highest of a group of 28 mountaineers of different nationalities, knocking them off.
Their fall set off a slab avalanche 150 metres wide that swept away those following lower down.
As well as the dead, nine people were injured in one of the worst European mountaineering accidents in recent memory.
A spokesman for the Alpine mountain rescue service, which scrambled a helicopter and sniffer dogs to the area after being alerted by an injured climber, said the incident had probably been caused by snow collapsing in the warm July weather.
Of the 28 people who set out on the route, many were led by guides and roped together. Most were following the popular "three mountains" route to the summit of Mont Blanc, and had begun their ascent in the early hours of the morning when the temperatures were colder and the snow pack and ice cliffs more stable.
A French survivor, Daniel Rossetto, said the avalanche, which caught him and the two Danish climbers he was guiding, struck like a sudden, invisible force "without a sound, just a puff of air".
"I felt the snow hit me. We tried to resist it but it pushed us all the way down the slope for 250 metres to the place where we were found.
"We were caught up in it; it knocks you over, somersaults you around. Each knock makes you wonder if it's getting worse. It's like being in a washing machine."
Rossetto described how he spent several long minutes imprisoned under the snow before being rescued.
"At the bottom of the slope I was all tied up in my rope. The rescuers found us, but the helicopters had difficulty because of the wind."
Rossetto said he did not see any other climbers hit by the snowslide.
"We were lucky, we were at the edge of the avalanche while the others were caught up in the mass of snow."
He said he didn't expect it to be so serious." The mountain is very unforgiving."
Britain's most famous mountaineer, Sir Chris Bonington, said there was no way anyone could have predicted the avalanche.
"Roger [Payne] was an expert on avalanche danger, he actually taught it, instructed it, but that doesn't make any difference. They are unpredictable," he told ITV's Daybreak programme.
"Roger was both a colleague, a friend, and of course a fellow climber as well. He did a terrific amount of work for the international mountaineering community, he did a terrific amount of work for the environment, and, when he went to K2 some years ago, did work for the local community as well. He is a huge loss to all of us."
Bonington said Mont Maudit was a standard climb, which hundreds of people had undertaken "and then those unlucky ones that day were there when it collapsed".
Two Swiss, two German and two Spanish people were also killed.
The climbers were among a party that left the Cosmiques mountain hut above the popular Vallée Blanche off-piste ski descent after the hut's 1am breakfast sitting. The three-mountains route ascends off the glacier and up the north-east face of Mont Blanc du Tacul. It then climbs Mont Maudit before continuing to the summit of Mont Blanc, continental Europe's highest mountain.
The accident took place on a long, glaciated slope running up from the shoulder of Mont Blanc du Tacul to the summit of Mont Maudit, which is crossed close to a prominent ice cliff.
According to footage from the accident and accounts of those who arrived in the immediate aftermath, there was fresh debris from a fallen section of ice cliff close to a large scoured area of wind slab avalanche, which had been deposited by high winds in the previous few days.