THE distraught families of two Yorkshire climbers who were on an expedition to raise funds for charity when they were killed in an avalanche in the French Alps have spoken of their devastation.
Steve Barber and John Taylor, who lived in the same street in the village of Upper Poppleton, near York, died when they were hit by a massive wall of snow as they traversed Mont Maudit – translated as Cursed Mountain.
The two neighbours, who both had children at Poppleton Ousebank Primary School, had been making the climb in aid of St Leonard’s Hospice in York.
A third British man who lost his life after being caught in the avalanche was Roger Payne, one of the UK’s most respected climbers and the former general secretary of the British Mountaineering Council (BMC).
In all, nine climbers were killed as they traversed the mountain in the Mont Blanc range near Chamonix early on Thursday. The other victims were three Germans, two Spaniards and one Swiss climber.
Mr Barber, 47, a company finance accountant who worked for a Leeds-based firm, was attempting to climb Mont Blanc for the first time. He had lived in Poppleton for most of his life, and his parents ran the village Post Office before retiring several years ago.
He leaves behind a long-term partner, Donna Rogers, a 10-year-old daughter, Francesca, his parents and sister Julie.
Ms Rogers said: “As might be expected, the family and I are all devastated at the loss of Steve and his close friend John.
“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.”
Mr Taylor, 48, who was originally from Manchester, moved to Upper Poppleton in 2003 and was a finance director in both the public and private sectors.
As well as his wife Karine, he leaves daughters Emma, 10, and eight-year-old Louise. His widow revealed Mr Taylor had climbed Mont Blanc on two previous occasions after taking up mountaineering in 1998.
Mrs Taylor also said her husband was a “highly regarded and very active member” of mountain rescue teams. “We are all truly devastated about this loss. He was a highly respected climber and this event represents a significant loss to the UK climbing community.”
Both families paid tribute to the efforts of the mountain rescue teams and emergency services as well as the help they had been given by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Parents at Poppleton Ousebank Primary School were told of the tragedy in a letter from headteacher Estelle O’Hara, who expressed her “great sadness”. The school will collect money for St Leonard’s Hospice in their memory.
The hospice’s director of fundraising, Janet Morley, also expressed her sorrow over the tragedy, and added: “Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends today.”