Thorough Investigation Called For Into Avalanche Deaths Near Chamonix

French Prosecutor Likely To Consider Whether To Bring Criminal Charges

13.07.2012

Travel law specialists at Irwin Mitchell have called for a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Chamonix avalanche which killed nine climbers earlier this week.

Clive Garner, head of the expert team at Irwin Mitchell which works on behalf of injured victims and the families of those killed in overseas disasters, said today: “While it remains early days and there is only limited information currently available, it is clear there will need to be a full and thorough investigation into all the circumstances surrounding this terrible tragedy. This must include a comprehensive evaluation of any guidance, advice and support given to the climbers ahead of their ill fated climb.

“From representing numerous victims and their families in many previous tragedies, I am sure that those injured and the loved ones of those sadly killed will have many questions they rightly want answered. The decision to proceed with the climb will certainly be questioned, particularly in the light of the recent reports of avalanche in the area and the reports that some climbers considered it too dangerous to ascend the mountain because of the hazardous conditions."

It is likely that an initial investigation will be carried out by the local police who will prepare a report including:
   •  the circumstances of the accident,
   •  identification of those involved,
   •  whether or not the avalanche was foreseeable,
   •  consideration of previous incidents in the area,
   •  arrangements made for the organisation of the climb,
   •  and whether or not any warnings should have been given.

This report is then likely to be passed to the local prosecutor who will determine whether criminal charges should be brought against any party arising out of the incident.

Alternatively, a criminal prosecution could be launched by any victim or member of a family of any of the deceased. In this case a criminal complaint would be made to an instructing Magistrate.

Garner added: “It is far too early to judge the outcome of the investigation and whether criminal charges will be laid or civil claims commenced. Mountain climbing will always have a degree of risk attached to it so careful risk assessment and risk management are essential to minimise the chances of a disaster like this occurring. 

"Avalanches are not uncommon in and around the Chamonix area and the safety of climbers should always be treated as the paramount consideration.

“The French Police will no doubt investigate this incident with great care. We expect them to thoroughly review all the evidence before finalising their report. As well as uncovering exactly what happened in this incident, there may be lessons to be learned which could reduce the potential of a similar tragedy occurring in the future.

“Our thoughts are with all of those affected by this terrible incident.”

Garner's team are already representing clients including the loved ones of a man who died in an accident following an avalanche while skiing near Chamonix almost three years ago.

John Taylor and Steve Barber, both from York, and former general secretary of the British Mountaineering Council Roger Payne have been named as the three Britons who died in the incident, which occurred on the slopes of Mont Maudit in the Mont Blanc range shortly before 05:30 local time on Thursday (July 12th).

Two Spaniards, three Germans and one Swiss national were also killed in the incident, which Foreign Secretary William Hague described as a “terrible tragedy”.

It is believed that 28 climbers who were roped together were caught up in the incident, although four people originally thought to have been in the party - including two Britons - have now been accounted for safe and well. All of the injured were airlifted to hospital.