A devastating avalanche in the French Alps, which killed nine climbers and injured 11 others, rattled the mountaineering community Thursday, serving as a stark reminder of the intrinsic perils of summer climbing.
Footage from the avalanche shows only the aftermath of the early morning tragedy: rescue personnel hovering around the site – on the north face of Mont Maudit, part of the Mont Blanc range – tending to the injured climbers submerged in snow. Helicopters quickly rushed the injured to safety, fearful that another avalanche could strike.
The avalanche claimed the lives of three Britons, three Germans, two Spaniards and a Swiss climber, news reports said.
Shots from the site of the avalanche and the route of the climbers can be seen below:
Photos of two of the British climbers, John Taylor and Steven Barber, were posted on Twitter after the news of their tragic death.
John Taylor, one of three Britons who died in the French Alps avalanche near Mont Blanc twitter.com/richwilliamssk…— Richard Williams (@richwilliamssky) July 13, 2012
Stephen Barber, one of three Britons who died in the French Alps avalanche near Mont Blanc twitter.com/richwilliamssk…— Richard Williams (@richwilliamssky) July 13, 2012
The two were from the same English village of Upper Poppleton, York, and were climbing to raise money for the St. Leonard’s Hospice near their town, according to Sky News. A video tribute to the third Briton killed, Roger Payne, a mountaineering veteran of nearly three decades, can be viewed on Sky News’ Web site here.
The emerging theory behind the avalanche, according to local news reports, is that a climber near the top of the iconic Mont Blanc disturbed a loose sheet of ice while scaling the peak. A slab of ice no thicker than a foot subsequently broke off and careened down the face of the mountain, quickly amassing size and speed. Before it reached the climbing party, the thin sheet of ice was a six-foot wall of snow.
“The first elements that we have from testimony are that a climber could have set loose a sheet of ice, and that sheet then pulled down the group of climbers below,” Col. Bertrand François of the Haute-Savoie gendarme service in Chamonix told local reporters. “I should say that the incline was very, very steep on this northern face.”
A video report by the Associated Press said that rescue workers were forced to abandon their immediate search for four missing climbers because of the risk of another avalanche. However, the missing climbers — two Britons and two Germans — were later found after they elected to take a different route, avoiding the catastrophe altogether, the AFP reported.
See the video below:
Speaking to the Telegraph, mountaineering expert Gary Parker explained how conditions on Mont Blanc were optimal for an avalanche. Predicting such a disaster, however, is much more difficult, he explained.
An average of 30 people die each year in the Swiss Alps, including Mont Blanc, according to the New York Times.
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