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Three die as tragedy hits Mont Blanc again

The Local · 18 Aug 2014, 09:17

Published: 18 Aug 2014 09:17 GMT+02:00

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Two climbers and their guide fell 800 metres to their death in the Mont Blanc range, police said on Monday, the latest in a series of tragedies on Europe's highest mountain.

"The fall of 800 metres (2,600 feet) gave them no chance," police said, adding they probably fell off a ridge that climbers must take to return to a nearby refuge hut.

"Investigations are ongoing to find out the cause of the fall. It's possible that an overhang of snow gave way under the group, preventing the guide from holding up his clients," police added.

Helicopter rescue teams discovered the bodies of the three victims on Sunday night near the Aiguille du Midi peak, which rises to a height of 3,842 metres (12,605 feet). Searches had been ongoing since Saturday evening.

The guide, in his 50s, had 25 years of experience, said Denis Crabieres, president of the national mountain guides union.

"It's difficult to think of someone who knew the area better," he added. The route the climbers were taking was not difficult technically but "can become dangerous under certain conditions."

"The path can disappear in certain weather conditions," he added.    

The deaths came just days after six climbers fell 250 metres to their death on another peak, the Aiguille d'Argentiere, and brings to 20 the number of dead or missing since the beginning of the climbing season.

That accident was the single worst loss of life on the mountain in more than two years.

In addition, two Belgians were found dead on August 2 and six climbers died between July 15 and 30 -- two Irishmen, two Finns, a German and a French person.

An American climber sparked outrage earlier this month when he tried to climb the mountain with his nine-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter and got caught in an avalanche.

The family escaped uninjured, but video footage of the incident in a spot known as the "Corridor of Death" caused an outcry when it was broadcast in the United States last month.

That incident sparked fears that the mountain was becoming a tourist "free for all."

The major of the local town of Chamonix noted that both accidents in the past week happened on relatively easy climbs and with experienced accompanying guides but stressed: "The mountain always poses serious hazards."

Story continues below…

"These are two blows of fate, two accidents that have floored us. It's terrible," said the mayor, Eric Fournier.

He said that the two accidents should not dent the reputation of mountain climbing, however, pointing out that "other sports and hobbies have even worse dangers."

Unlike legendary peaks in the Andes, Alaska or the Himalayas, no permit is needed to make the ascent of Mont Blanc, a fact that outrages those fed up with the fallout of the estimated 30,000 climbing parties that try to make the climb each year, many of them during the June to September peak season.

“It’s on the same list that includes going to Mont Saint Michel and getting a tan on one of France’s beaches and the whole thing reminds one of a large amusement park that goes by the name of Disneyland,” Jean-Marc Peillex, mayor of the town of Saint-Gervais which sits at the foot of the mountain, told The Local previously.

“Mont Blanc is sold like it’s a simple trek, but in reality it’s a high-altitude act of mountaineering.”

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