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Swiss and French climbers died in Ben Nevis avalanche

Ben Nevis rescue operationImage copyright
PA

Image caption

Police at the scene of Ben Nevis rescue effort

Two of three climbers who died in an avalanche on Ben Nevis on Tuesday were from France and the other from Switzerland, police have confirmed.

Swiss authorities had earlier confirmed the death of one Swiss national and that another was injured.

The Frenchmen were aged 41 and 32 and the Swiss man who died was 43.

Mathieu Biselx, the 30-year-old survivor of the avalanche in Number 5 Gully, has been receiving treatment in hospital in Glasgow.

His condition was described as “stable”.

Mr Biselx is the president of the Sion section of the Swiss Alpine Club. His companions were also club members.

  • Third person dead after Ben Nevis avalanche

A Swiss embassy spokeswoman told the BBC Scotland news website: “Swiss authorities are in contact with the Scottish authorities as well as with the families in Switzerland.”

‘Suddenly we heard a noise’

According to the Swiss newspaper, La Nouvellise, all four men lived in Valais in the Swiss Alps and had left for Scotland on Sunday.

Mr Biselx told the newspaper: “It’s terrible, they’re not here anymore. They won’t see their families again.”

He added: “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.”

The avalanche on the mountain, near Fort William, is one of the worst Scottish climbing accidents in recent years.

Twenty-nine volunteer mountain rescuers were involved in the rescue operation as well as a group of military personnel from the Joint Services Mountain Training Centre.

Lochaber MRT said conditions on the mountain were “very difficult with very high winds, snow and thunder and lightning”.

Image caption

A Coastguard helicopter involved in the rescue effort

The weather hampered the efforts of Coastguard helicopter crews, despite “some excellent flying”, the team said.

The alarm was raised by a Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) forecaster and a guide climbing who were in the area.

SAIS assesses potential avalanche risk for Lochaber, where Ben Nevis is located, and five other mountain areas.

‘Extremely challenging conditions’

Donald Paterson, Lochaber MRT deputy team leader, told BBC Scotland the avalanche occurred above where the party of climbers were.

He said the SAIS forecaster had seen a “plume” coming out of the gully, but could not see if anyone was in the path of the snow slide from their position.

Mr Paterson said: “The second confirmation (of the avalanche) came from a guide, who was on the opposite side of the coire and witnessed the slide coming down and the people below.

“Initially it was thought there were two people, but when we reached them it was confirmed there were four in the party.”

Image caption

Mountain rescue teams, the coastguard, police and ambulance service were involved in the rescue effort

Insp Isla Campbell, of Police Scotland, 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.”

Insp Campbell urged walkers and climbers to carefully plan their trips into the hills, and to check weather and avalanche forecasts.

She added: “We do not want to put anyone off enjoying the great outdoors activities we have here in Scotland but we would ask that people plan their routes, take sensible precautions and consider whether it is safe to climb a particular route.

“The environment of the Scottish mountains is by its very nature an unpredictable one and it is important that people take as many precautions and plan ahead as much as possible if they are going to go climbing, especially at this time of year.”

Brian Tregaskis, secretary of the Lochaber MRT, added: “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 the incident was the third avalanche in Number 5 Gully since Saturday.

On Saturday evening, a party of four climbers were “avalanched”. One of the group was swept down the gully but was not injured.


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