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French rescuers refuse to airlift Mont Blanc climber

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French rescuers refuse to airlift Mont Blanc climber
French officials forced a climber to walk down Mont Blanc after refusing his demand to be airlifted off the mountain. Photo: Philippe Merle/AFP
13:54 CEST+02:00
Fed up French officials refused to airlift a Polish climber off the slopes of Mont Blanc, when he called for help after deciding he didn't want to walk down. The local French mayor blasted 'ad hoc' alpinists for being like 'urban consumers'.

Angry officials in the tiny Mont Blanc community of Saint-Gervais took an ideological stance against a Polish climber who "refused to go down on his own means".

The unnamed climber was at a shelter 3,835 metres up on the mountain when he called the alpine rescue team and asked them to come and pick him up because he didn't want to hike down Europe’s tallest mountain.

But to his anger the local prefecture and Saint-Gervais’ mayor in turn refused to rescue the man, deciding his life was not in danger.

The mayor, Jean-Marc Peillex, then even went one step further. When the exasperated Polish climber decided to hire a private helicopter to come pick him up the politician wouldn’t give it permission to fly over his village.

“Is the PGHM (mountain rescue squad) going to have to get a taxi license?” an angry Peillex asked in a statement. “The demands of these ‘ad-hoc alpinists’ are like that of an urban consumer's state of mind that demands security and service in all places...The ascension of Mont Blanc is a matter for alpinists in a natural setting dictated by its own laws.”

At first the stubborn polish climber refused to flinch in his battle with local authorities and decided to sit tight. But after 48 hours in the shelter he eventually gave up. With the help of a guide, whom he was forced to pay for, he walked down into the valley below.

Peillex clearly doesn’t have much patience for tenderfoot climbers and went on to say in his statement he believes “abuse of rescue services should be punished and be charged for.”

The lack of sympathy in this case might be linked to the sheer amount of people who climb the 4,810 metre peak with little idea of how hard it's going to be. Some 350-400 climbing parties set out for the summit every day in summer, according to a brochure from the nearby town of Chamonix that's titled “No, climbing Mont Blanc is not easy.”  

Rescuers get called in 80-100 times per year, sometimes several times per day. Of those cases 80 percent are linked to a lack of physical preparation or inadequate time spent acclimatizing to the altitude, the leaflet says.

But rescuers don’t make everyone in need walk back down. One climber found himself within a few hundred metres of the summit of the famous Alpine peak, but was to forced to call in mountain rescue services all because someone stole his walking boots, The Local reported earlier this month.

"When we find people in that situation, we extract them by helicopter. We don't leave them in their socks. It's pretty dangerous," explained mountain rescue chief Jean-Baptiste Estachy.

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