Swiss and French climbers killed in Ben Nevis avalanche

An injured Swiss man was airlifted to Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

Death: One of the climbers was a Swiss national. <strong>Creative Commons</strong>
Death: One of the climbers was a Swiss national. Creative Commons

Three climbers who died following an avalanche on Ben Nevis were Swiss and French nationals.

The men died in the snow slide, which occurred on Tuesday morning shortly after 11.50am on the Highland mountain at Number 5 Gully.

Two of them, aged 32 and 41, were French and one was Swiss, aged 43.

A fourth climber aged 30, also a Swiss national, was flown to Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow for treatment.

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Police have said the next of kin of those who had died have been informed of their deaths. 

Swiss media reported that the group were members of the Club Alpin Suisse de Sion (Swiss Alpine Club, Sion).

Speaking from hospital, Mathieu Biselx told Swiss newspaper Le Nouvelliste: “It’s terrible, they’re not here anymore. They won’t see their families again.”

A spokesperson for the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs said: “The Federal Department of Foreign Affairs confirms the death of a Swiss national during an avalanche in Scotland.

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“Another Swiss national was injured.”

The group were caught by the river of snow and ice in a gully on Ben Nevis as Storm Gareth blew in with strong winds on Tuesday morning, triggering a huge search and recovery operation in “brutal conditions”, a rescuer said.

One of the climbers, who are said to have all been young men, died “pretty instantaneously”, while another could not be saved despite receiving CPR for half an hour, Donald Paterson, deputy team leader of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team (MRT), said.

A third climber died while being taken down the mountain.

Mr Paterson told the Daily Telegraph: “We did all we possibly could – we had every available person we could get hold of. There were four stretcher parties.

“We carried the bodies all the way down. It is a terrible tragedy. They just got wiped out by the avalanche.

“It was brutal conditions.”

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Fort William Inspector, Isla Campbell said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of those involved in the avalanche on Ben Nevis yesterday.

“Formal identification will take place in due course and the next of kin of those involved have now all been informed.

“I would again like to thank the volunteers from Lochaber and Glencoe mountain rescue teams and the members of the public who assisted with this incident, in what was extremely challenging conditions.”

Brian Tregaskis, Secretary of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue team said: “The members of the Lochaber and Glencoe Mountain Rescue teams did an incredible job in very difficult conditions. 

“We’d like to extend our deepest sympathies to the loved ones of those who lost their lives and we hope the surviving casualty makes a full and speedy recovery.”

Lochaber MRT said it received a call out from the Scottish Avalanche Information Service, which recorded a “large” avalanche at No 5 Gully at 11.45am.

The team, along with Glencoe MRT and around 29 volunteer mountain rescuers who happened to be training in the area, raced to the scene.

“Conditions were very difficult with very high winds, snow and thunder and lightning, which restricted the support the Maritime and Coastguard Agency helicopters could provide despite some excellent flying,” Lochaber MRT said.

Police Scotland’s Fort William inspector Isla Campbell said: “This has been a challenging operation and I want to pass on my thanks to the mountain rescue teams, colleagues at the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and Scottish Ambulance Service for their assistance in extremely difficult conditions.

“I would also like to praise members of the public and staff from the Scottish Avalanche Information Service who were on scene at the time and provided immediate assistance.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the deaths were “absolutely tragic news”.

She tweeted: “My thoughts are very much with the bereaved and injured. And my gratitude as always for the work of our emergency services, Mountain Rescue and Coastguard.”

Two climbers who were scaling Ben Nevis decided to turn back less than an hour before the avalanche occurred.

Eoin Donnelly, 20, and Jean Gill, 20, had travelled to Scotland from Co. Kildare in Ireland to try and reach the UK’s highest summit.

The pair had camped on the mountain overnight in poor conditions and only decided to turn back less than 40 minutes before the avalanche struck, killing three people.

Ms Gill said: “When we started it wasn’t too bad, we got near to the lake and it was so windy – there were hailstones blowing into our face.

“We basically had to change our plans and turn around because it was getting too dangerous, because the wind was so strong it was really hard to walk with it blowing against us.”

Mr Donnelly added: “The wind was so, so bad – you couldn’t open your eyes the hail was so bad.

“I’d say there was about a foot of snow. It was just really, really scary.

“Once you got to the point the ground was frozen over so you wouldn’t have been able to cross without crampons or proper climbing gear.

“When we did decided to turn around we said ‘we need to go home – this is too dangerous’.

“We crossed a guide with a group of hill-climbers and he was like ‘these people want to go up there, but there’s no chance.’

“Even an experienced climber with climbing gear would be crazy to go, because the weather was so dangerous.”


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