Cambridge-born soldier died in Alps after rock fell

A soldier fell to his death in a climbing accident in the Swiss Alps when a rock holding his abseiling rope toppled over as he descended a mountain, an inquest has heard.

Lance Corporal Hayden Prince, 24, was on a private trip with two mountaineering friends while on annual leave from the British Army.

The group set out from the Hornli hut at the base camp of the Matterhorn at 6am on June 2 last year. They planned to turn around and descend by 2pm, regardless of whether or not they had reached the summit.

They stuck to this self-imposed target and turned around before 2pm withoutreaching the summit, assistant Cambridgeshire coroner Nicholas Moss told a hearing in Huntingdon that was held via Skype.<

Mr Moss said that descending safely with three people was "more time-consuming" and that the group were still descending after darkness fell.

He said they were well-equipped and had head torches.

In a joint statement, L/Cpl Prince's friends Luke Nibbs and Michael Slade, who were on the mountain with him, said that a rock came loose as L/Cpl Prince abseiled down a gully.

They had put a sling around the rock (around the size of a double fridge freezer) and tested it before L/Cpl Prince began his descent.

"As soon as I heard the noise, I looked up and saw the entire rock come off the mountain edge," said Mr Nibbs.

"It turned and fell at a 45-degree angle."

Mr Slade said L/Cpl Prince looked "controlled" as he began his descent before the rock fell.

He said they called mountain rescue as soon as L/Cpl Prince fell at around 2.40am on June 3 last year, and could only shout after L/Cpl Prince as their abseiling rope fell with him.

Mr Nibbs and Mr Slade were winched from the mountain by helicopter.

L/Cpl Prince died at the scene on June 3 and his body was recovered.

His medical cause of death was given as blunt force trauma to the chest and right lower limb, with fall from height also stated as a cause of death.

Mr Moss said: "Sadly and tragically, as Hayden attempted to abseil down, suddenly and without warning the large rock to which the abseil rope was attached by slings gave way.

"The rock started to fall down the mountain and sadly Hayden fell down too.

A report from the Swiss authorities found the group had climbed 3,850ft before turning back, and L/Cpl Prince was in the area of the Hornli Ridge of the Matterhorn near Zermatt when he fell.

"Tragically, this fall was Hayden falling to his death," Mr Moss continued. "I find it wasn't a survivable fall. There was absolutely nothing Mr Nibbs or Mr Slade could do to prevent it at that stage. Matters clearly happened very quickly."

He concluded that L/Cpl Prince's death was accidental.

L/Cpl Prince, who was born in Cambridge, served with the 1st Fusiliers and was a junior non-commissioned officer at Bulford Barracks near Salisbury, Wiltshire.

He had joined the British Army in 2014.