There has been a major avalanche on Mont Maudit in the Chamonix region. Nine climbers are confirmed dead – including former general secretary of the BMC and mountain guide Roger Payne.
Dave Turnbull, the current BMC chief executive, said:
“The mountaineering world is shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic death of Roger Payne, former BMC general secretary and former president of the British Mountain Guides. Roger 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. Our thoughts are with Roger’s friends and family – in particular his wife Julie-Ann.”
Read more about the life and achievements of Roger Payne
The avalanche occured just after 5am on Thursday, at around 4,000m on Mont Maudit.
There were at least 28 people on the route, of several nationalities, including British. The 28 had all left the Cosmiques Hut after the 01:00 breakfast.
The avalanche came down around 5:30 from the Mont Maudit slope. It was triggered by a serac fall, but windslab snow accumulated in the last two days by prevailing south winds may have contributed. Video footage on the BBC site shows the exact spot.
According to Daniele Ollier of the SAV, the avalanche was huge (150m wide) and the exact mechanism was in two steps: the initial serac fall hit the climbers who were higher on the Maudit face, then the windslab avalanche took out the climbers below, sweeping them for 200 metres.
Despite some initial confusion about what happened, rescue came very quickly, and they started working on extracting the avalanched climbers immediately with the help of other climbing parties – including British climber Victor Saunders.
The French have confirmed nine dead: two Germans, two Swiss, two Spaniards and three British. It is understood that Roger was climbing with his two clients: John Taylor and Steve Barber - both BMC members from Upper Poppleton, a village west of York.
BBC news has more details and photos of John Taylor and Steve Barber.
Their partners paid tribute via a police statement. Karine Taylor described her husband John as a "highly respected climber". She explained that: "John always had a keen interest in outdoor activities taking up mountaineering in 1998, and was a highly regarded and very active member of mountain rescue teams himself. John had climbed several challenging mountains across the world, including Mont Blanc on two previous occasions."
Mr Barber's long-term partner Donna Rogers said "He always wanted to climb Mont Blanc, an ambition that this trip was to fulfil."
None of the injured appear to be in a serious condition.
The BMC sends condolences to the family and friends of all those killed and wish a speedy recover to those injured.
French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has announced that a church service is to be held in Chamonix on Saturday afternoon in memory of the dead climbers.
The Foreign Office has set up an emergency number for people worried about friends and relatives who may have been caught up in the avalanche. British nationals requiring information or advice should contact the FCO in London on 020 7008 1500 or, if in France, the British Embassy on +33 (0) 1 44 51 31 00.
Mont Blanc (4,808m) is the highest mountain in Western Europe and an ascent involves all the hazards of high-altitude mountaineering.
Mont Maudit (4,465m) is part of the popular Trois Monts route to the summit of Mont Blanc. Mont Blanc is a popular peak with British mountaineers and many successfully climb it each year, by this route and several others.
An avalanche is a sudden, rapid flow of snow down a hill or mountainside. Avalanches can occur on any slope given the right conditions and a combination of factors – such as recent snowfall and time of day.
Avalanches are a common hazard on the lower-angled slopes encountered on popular mountaineering routes.
Avalanches are just one of the hazards encountered in the alpine mountain environment and all mountaineers are aware of the risks of climbing in the Alps.
Roger Payne was the BMC general secretary from 1995 - 2001. Read more about his life and achievements here.
Roger Payne was a mountain guide and former president of the British Mountain Guides.
The BMC has a Participation Statement: “The BMC recognises that climbing and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. Participants in these activities should be aware of and accept these risks and be responsible for their own actions.”
Thanks to Luca Signorelli for help with this report.
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