Ben Nevis avalanche victims revealed as French and Swiss climbers

14 March 2019, 07:20

Ben Nevis

Three climbers who died after an avalanche on the UK's highest mountain were French and Swiss, Police Scotland have said.

Two of the men caught on Ben Nevis were French, aged 41 and 32, and the third was a Swiss 43-year-old.

A fourth man, 30-year-old Swiss national Mathieu Biselx, remains in a stable condition at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow after Tuesday's avalanche.

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

They were caught by the river of snow and ice in Number 5 gully as Storm Gareth blew in with strong winds, triggering a huge search and recovery operation in "brutal conditions", a rescuer said.

One of the climbers died "pretty instantaneously", according to Donald Paterson, deputy team leader of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team (MRT).

Another could not be saved despite receiving CPR for half an hour.

Speaking from hospital where he is being treated for serious injuries to both legs, Mr Biselx said his companions were experienced climbers who took advice from local guides and were staying with one.

He said they had been given two routes to take on the mountain and went on one in the morning with no problems.

As they still had time, they suggested doing the second one in the afternoon - assuming they had taken the necessary precautions.

Upon reaching the second route they saw there had already been an avalanche there but had barely reached the area when they were swept away.

Mr Biselx, president of the alpine club and father of a little girl, said he was "amazingly lucky".

He told Le Nouvelliste: "We weren't very high up and suddenly we heard a noise. We looked round and two seconds later we were carried away by heavy, compact snow.

"When I regained consciousness only my head and an arm were sticking out of the snow."

He described his companions as "wonderful" people who were also fathers, adding: "It's terrible they're not here anymore. They won't see their families again."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the fatalities were "absolutely tragic", while Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes said it was "heartbreaking".

Brian Tregaskis, Lochaber MRT secretary, also paid tribute to the climbers and his team.

They were joined by Glencoe MRT and around 30 volunteer mountain rescuers who happened to be training in the area.

He 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."

Tuesday's incident follows two recent fatal accidents on the mountain, which at 1,345m is the UK's highest.

On New Year's Day, a 21-year-old German woman, who was a student at Bristol University, died after she fell from a ridge she had been climbing with three other people.

She had been hiking on what is known as the "ledge route" when she fell around 500ft.

In December, Patrick Boothroyd, 21, from West Yorkshire, died after falling in the Tower Gully area.