Climber watched friend plunge 120ft to death in French Alps

A YORKSHIRE climber plunged 120ft to his death in front of his friend when an Alpine snow bridge gave way.

Gary Nelmes, 42, fell down the crevasse as he descended the Milieu glacier near Chamonix as his friend looked on unable to do anything to help him.

Climbing partner Richard Jones, a police officer, described in a statement to the inquest how he was completely powerless to help his friend when he saw him plummet out of sight.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

“He dropped suddenly. He was held very briefly by the weak snow for maybe a second, then shouted: ‘Rich! Rich!’ and disappeared.”

Mr Nelmes had been carrying their only rope so Mr Jones was unable to reach him.

The hearing heard that he could not see him from the top of the deep ravine and got no response when he called out to him.

Mr Jones then took a GPS reading of their location, at 3,100m, before going to get help.

A mountain rescue team was scrambled but was held back by a lightning storm.

They returned the next day and found the body of Mr Nelmes at the bottom of the crevasse.

He had died from multiple injuries as well as a punctured lung and hypothermia.

The inquest in Halifax, heard that the two experienced climbers had been using their rope and ice screws to secure it. However, they were going without the rope at the spot where Mr Nelmes fell as conditions made it impossible.

Mr Jones said: “On the descent, the snow conditions were softer and slushier.

“It was very difficult to get to the base of the ice in certain areas so you couldn’t always use ice screws.”

Going without a rope was best practice when climbing as a pair, the hearing heard.

“With two people it’s difficult, sometimes impossible, to stop the fall of one,” said Mr Jones.

“If you have some protection in, you can stop the fall but if you are not able to put it in then you are both likely to fall – then there is nobody to provide any kind of rescue.” The tragic accident happened in Chamonix in July 2009. Recording a verdict of misadventure, Coroner Tim Ratcliffe told the hearing: “They were both properly equipped, they both took account of weather conditions, they both climbed properly and did what was appropriate according to best climbing practice.”

He added: “But mitigation of risk is not elimination of risk. Climbers know that.”

Mr Nelmes was an experienced climber who loved adventure and being in out and about in the great outdoors.

He was a former pupil at Bailiff Bridge Junior and Infant School and the former Eastfield Secondary School, in Lightcliffe.

He later studied at the University of York and then went on to gain two BAs and an MA. He worked with the Open University in Milton Keynes were he was a media project manager.

Speaking after the inquest, his dad Glyndwr, of Brighouse, described his son as a driven and adventurous man and said that he excelled at whatever he chose to do and loved to tackle sporting challenges.

“Gary was a very special person,” he said.

“He had two degrees, a master’s degree and another on the way.

“He took on marathons, long-distance swimming – you name it.

“Gary was a very fit young man but he was also academic.”

“He was a very, very lovely lad,” he added.