Memorial service held for Alpine climbers

John Taylor, Steve Barber and Roger Payne were killed in an avalanche in the Alps.
John Taylor, Steve Barber and Roger Payne were killed in an avalanche in the Alps. Photo: North Yorkshire Police

A memorial service has been held for nine climbers, including three Britons, killed in a huge avalanche in the French Alps.

Steve Barber, John Taylor and Roger Payne died as they traversed Mont Maudit - or Cursed Mountain - in the Mont Blanc range near Chamonix in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The other victims were three Germans, two Spaniards and one Swiss climber.

French authorities believe wind triggered the avalanche.

A memorial service was held at the Eglise Saint-Michel in Chamonix.

During the service, the name of each of the victims was read out and a candle lit for them.

Mr Payne was one of the UK's most respected climbers and former general secretary of the British Mountaineering Council.

Mr Barber, 47, and Mr Taylor, 48, lived on the same street in Upper Poppleton, a village to the north-west of York, and both had children at Poppleton Ousebank School.

They were attempting the climb to raise money for St Leonard's Hospice in York.

The families of Mr Taylor, who was originally from Manchester, and Mr Barber both said they were devastated.

Mrs Taylor said her husband, who was father to Emma, 10, and Louise, eight, had climbed Mont Blanc twice previously.

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.

– Mrs Taylor
Mont Maudit in the French Alps following the avalanche which struck on Thursday.
Mont Maudit in the French Alps following the avalanche which struck on Thursday. Credit: Mountain Tracks

Mr Barber's long-term partner Donna Rogers, with whom he had a daughter, 10-year-old Francesca, 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.

The men's families thanked the mountain rescue teams who tried to save them. Donations for the hospice are also being collected by Poppleton Ousebank School. Mr Payne's brother, Keith Pritchard, paid tribute to him.

Mr Pritchard told Sky News that his brother was a "wonderful guy", adding:

Roger Payne with his wife Julie Ann Clyma.
Roger Payne with his wife Julie Ann Clyma. Credit: PA

I said to mum keep calm and carry on and just remember he died doing what he loved.

– Keith Pritchard

The mountaineering world has also paid their respects 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.

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.

– Dave Turnbull, chief executive of the BMC

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.