THE families of two neighbours from York killed in an avalanche in the French Alps said today that they were “devastated” by the deaths.
Steve Barber, 47, and John Taylor, 48, lived in the same street in Upper Poppleton, a village to the north-west of York, and both had children at Poppleton Ousebank School.
They had been making their climb in aid of a local hospice, St Leonard’s.
The third British man who lost his life after being hit by a massive wall of snow yesterday was Roger Payne, one of the UK’s most respected climbers and former general secretary of the British Mountaineering Council (BMC).
The pair were good friends who shared a love of climbing, their partners said.
A total of nine climbers were killed as they traversed Mont Maudit - translated as Cursed Mountain - in the Mont Blanc range near Chamonix in the early hours of the morning. Among the other victims were three Germans, two Spaniards and one Swiss climber.
Mr Taylor, 48, originally from Manchester, moved to Upper Poppleton in 2003. As well as his wife Karine he leaves daughters Emma, 10, and eight-year-old Louise.
Mrs Taylor said her husband had climbed Mont Blanc twice previously.
She said: “We are all truly devastated about this loss.
“John always had a keen interest in outdoor activities taking up mountaineering in 1998 and was a highly regarded and very active member of mountain rescue teams himself.
“John had climbed several challenging mountains across the world, including Mont Blanc on two previous occasions. He was a highly respected climber and this event represents a significant loss to the UK climbing community.
“In his personal life, John was a finance director, working within the public and private sectors. He will be sadly missed by his work colleagues.
“The family would like to pay tribute to the Mountain Rescue teams based in France and elsewhere that tried to save John and his good friend Steve. They would also like to thank the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the assistance offered and provided at this time.”
Mr Barber, 47, was attempting to climb Mont Blanc for the first time.
His long-term partner Donna Rogers said: “As might be expected, the family and I are all devastated at the loss of Steve and his close friend John.
“Steve has lived in Poppleton most of his life. His parents ran the village Post Office before retiring several years ago.
“Steve, like John, loved the outdoors and was a keen walker. He always wanted to climb Mont Blanc, an ambition that this trip was to fulfil.
“He had been training hard for the ascent and had successfully completed several challenging climbs in Europe and in the UK prior to this trip.
“In his personal life, Steve was a company finance accountant with a Leeds-based finance company.
“The family wish to express their sincere thanks to the men and women of the Mountain Rescue teams who tried so hard to save John and Steve. The family also wish to thank friends and close family who have been so supportive at this time.
“They would also like to thank the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the assistance offered and provided at this time.”
He leaves behind his parents, sister Julie and 10-year-old daughter Francesca.
The three Britons were part of a 28-strong group which left a climbing hut to attempt the route, described by local guides as the second most popular to the top of Mont Blanc, in the early hours of yesterday morning.
The alarm was raised at 5.20am local time by one of the injured climbers.
French authorities were told that a “slab” avalanche had hit several groups of mountaineers who were roped together on the northern face of Mont Maudit at 13,123ft (4,000m). The avalanche was caused by heavy snow and is thought to have been triggered by strong winds.
Local French police commander Jean-Baptiste Estachy said the risks of avalanches were known - “especially during July and August” - but stressed that it could not have been predicted.
British Ambassador to France Sir Peter Ricketts said a consular team was supporting the victims’ families who have travelled to France, and added: “This is a shock. There is a feeling of sadness here in Chamonix.”
A church service is to be held in Chamonix tomorrow afternoon in memory of the dead climbers, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said.
All those believed to have been missing have now been accounted for.
Two other Britons - including climber Dave Compton, 41, from Ellesmere Port - reported missing following the avalanche were confirmed safe and well after presenting themselves to police in Chamonix.
Mr Taylor and Mr Barber lived almost opposite each other in Pear Tree Avenue in Upper Poppleton, a quiet, affluent commuter village about five miles from the centre of York.
Neighbours said they were shocked by the news but most said they did not want to talk. Flowers were delivered to Mr Taylor’s detached home.
Parents at Poppleton Ousebank School were told in a letter from headteacher Estelle O’Hara: “It is with great sadness that I write to inform you that two of the climbers killed in yesterday’s avalanche in the French Alps were parents from Poppleton Ousebank - Steve Barber, father of Frankie in Year 5, and John Taylor, father of Emma in Year 5 and Louise in Year 3.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to both Donna Rogers and Karine Taylor who have both lost their life-long partners.
“Children have been informed and school staff have been supporting them throughout the day, providing a caring shoulder and answering any questions that children may have.”
The school is to collect money for St Leonard’s Hospice in memory of the climbers.
Janet Morley, director of fundraising at St Leonard’s Hospice, said: “We are devastated to hear of Steve’s death and the deaths of John Barber and Roger Payne, as well as of the other victims. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends today.”
Leader of the City of York Council’s Conservative group, Ian Gillies, who represents Upper Poppleton, said: “Devastated doesn’t cover it, really.
“I’m sure the people in the village and the wider community will provide the support the families need, not only now but for weeks to come.”
James Alexander, Labour leader of City of York Council, said he was “deeply saddened” by the news.
Mr Taylor was director of resources at housing organisation the Vela Group.
Chief executive Cath Purdy described him as “a kind, gentle man” who had been pursuing his passion when he was killed.
She said: “This is an enormous tragedy and all John’s many work friends have been left absolutely devastated by his death.”
The mountaineering world has paid tribute to Mr Payne.
Dave Turnbull, chief executive of the BMC, said he was “shocked and saddened” by the death of the avalanche instructor and mountain guide.
He said: “Roger was one of the UK’s most enthusiastic and respected climbers, with a track record of Alpine and Himalayan mountaineering stretching back to the 1980s.”
Mr Payne, a former president of the British Mountain Guides, was originally from Hammersmith in west London, but is understood to have been living in Leysin, Switzerland, with New Zealand-born wife Julie-Ann Clyma, who is also an experienced mountaineer.
Foreign Secretary William Hague sent his condolences to the friends and families of those affected, saying he was “very saddened” by the tragedy.
The Mont Blanc massif is a popular area for climbers, hikers and tourists but a dangerous one, with dozens dying on it each year.
Daniel Rossetto, a 63-year-old mountain guide who survived the avalanche, said the experience was like being “in a washing machine”.
Mr Rossetto, who was leading two Danish climbers up the mountain, told France’s Le Parisien newspaper: “We were on the edge of the avalanche - that was our fortune - while the other climbers were held under by masses of snow.”
Dozens of people have left tributes and pledges on an internet donation site Mr Barber had set up to raise money for the hospice through his climb.
Yesterday there were about 20 donations on justgiving.com/stevebarber totalling about £300. Tonight more than 70 people had promised money and the total had topped £1,400.
One donor said: “We did not know you personally but our thoughts and prayers are with the families.”
Another said: “These are awesome people who will be remembered.”
One £50 donation was accompanied by the message: “So great that they put themselves out for others, you should be very proud of them.”