Two Irish climbers who plunged to their deaths in a fall on an Alpine mountain had reached the summit and were descending when the accident happened.
Colm Ennis, a 37-year-old, originally from Co Waterford but living in Cork, and Peter Britton from Clonmel, died instantly when they fell 200ft while descending the Dent du Géant (Tooth of the Giant) at around 3pm Irish time on Sunday.
A spokesman for the emergency rescue service, the PGHM de Chamonix, told the Irish Examiner the climbers had spent Friday and Saturday night at the Refuge Torino, a high-mountain lodge at almost 11,000ft on the Mont Blanc massif on the French/Italian border.
The duo, both experienced climbers, then left early on Sunday morning to tackle the Dent du Géant, which rises to more than 13,000ft or 4,000 metres.
The PGHM de Chamonix spokesman said: “We are sure that they reach the top. We see some photos that they take with their camera.”
He confirmed the men were tethered together at the time of the accident at around 4pm local time, and that emergency services were at the scene via helicopter within 10-15 minutes.
According to the spokesman, an Italian climber some distance away saw the two men fall, but no climbers were close to them when the accident happened.
Weather conditions were described as “fairly good” and it is not thought there was any rock fall, avalanche or weather event. The accident is now expected to be the subject of a local investigation.
Colm Ennis, HR manager at Amazon’s Customer Service operations in Cork City, was originally from Lismore Park in Waterford City.
Just last month he was part of a fundraising event on behalf of Cork Simon as part of Amazon’s Nelson Mandela Day. Describing himself as an active mountaineer and hillwalker, he was a graduate of Waterford Institute of Technology, where he was WIT Adventure Club treasurer. He was also a member of Scouting Ireland and Mountaineering Ireland.
Peter Britton was a veteran of Alpine climbs and a key member of the Rathgormack Climbing Club in north Co Waterford. Just last Friday, the club’s Facebook page featured a photograph of him climbing the Rimpfiscchorn, another Alpine peak, with the words: “We will be away for the next while climbing an alp or two...” He was also a member of the Irish Mountaineering Club.
Waterford City Cllr John Cummins knew Mr Ennis through De La Salle Scouts and said: “He is going to be a huge loss to the community.”
Cllr Cummins said Colm and his brother had a long-running association with DLS Scouts, and that Colm had constructed its “immaculate” website.
“It is just shocking,” he said, adding that it was “puzzling” how two hugely experienced climbers could fall such a distance.
“I certainly hope they have an investigation in France to get to the bottom of what happened,” he said.
In a statement issued on behalf of Rathgormack Community & Hiking Centre, group chairperson Mary Greene said: “We are shocked, devastated and saddened at the news of the deaths of Peter and Colm. Both Peter and Colm used the climbing wall in Rathgormack Community Centre. Peter had set up and ran the climbing wall there for the last 14 years, encouraging all ages to take up the sport he loved so much and organising groups and individuals from far and wide to climb in the centre. Peter was a gentleman to deal with and was always happy to help and support Rathgormack Community Centre.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the families of both men were being provided with consular assistance in France via the Irish Embassy in Paris.
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