Five French Climbers Perish in Alps Tragedy

Posted on: May 2, 2008

On Wednesday, April 30, 2008, five French climbers died on the opposite side of Punta Basei (3338m), visible here, in Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso, Italian Alps. The sixth member of the team, a French mountain guide, survived the avalanche that was triggered by a collapsing cornice. [Photo] Antonio Giani

Five French climbers died in an avalanche Wednesday afternoon, April 30, 2008, on Punta Basei (3338m), near the Col de Nivolet, on the Piemonte (Turin) side of Parco Nazionale del Gran Paradiso, Italian Alps. The sixth member of the team, a French mountain guide, survived.

The victims are Bruno Paladini, 51, from a L'Ojon; Colomb Christian, 60, from Vichy; Sophie Chourtier, 38, from Paris; Christophe Jean Marie Gandon, 45, from Marigny le Chantel; Brisset Ghautier Francois, 44, from Betz.


A fierce storm that day intensified, causing whiteout conditions, and the avalanche risk was Level 4, or "very high."

According to rescue official Massimo De Michela, the group took the wrong couloir while descending from the summit. As they found themselves unable to continue downward they decided to retrace their steps back to the ridge. While they were climbing together (without skis) and apparently not far below the ridge, a huge cornice collapsed on them.

When the group failed to return from their tour Wednesday afternoon, the Nivolet hut warden initiated a search carried out by Piemonte and Val d'Aoste mountain rescues. The Aosta rescue flew, at the limit of visibility, an helicopter reconnaissance very late on Wednesday night, and spotted the guide, who was brought to a hospital in Aosta, Italy, for treatment. The lifeless bodies of the other climbers were also spotted at the bottom of a gorge, 150 meters below the avalanche's origin, but bad weather combined with nightfall forced the teams to call off the search until the next day. At 6:30 a.m. another helicopter mission, this time from the Piemonte side, managed finally to recover the bodies.

The group was making a traverse, relatively benign in good conditions, from Val d'Aoste to the Ceresole (Piemonte) side of the range, via the Col de Nivolet and Punta Basei, a very popular hiking and ski mountaineering spot for locals.

Sources: Luca Signorelli, Max Demichela,

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seems to me the purpose of hiring a guide is to avail oneself of their experience and judgement and that the client's safety is the guide's main responsibility. This terrible accident was clearly unintended, but a number of unwise decisions were a contributing cause and it seems the guide was in a position to make or shape those decisions and must live with the unfortunate consequences.

2008-05-07 12:54:02

Obviously the guide didn't set out to kill five people and ruin his career and his reputation (duh). But the guide, who would have almost surely been UIAGM certified, did sell his services to five people who entrusted their lives to him, which he failed to do. "A fierce storm that day intensified...," "avalanche risk was very high..." and "took the wrong couloir..." indicate that on several occasions this guide made very poor decisions that led to the deaths of his five clients.

2008-05-06 02:40:07

Very sad news. I cant believe any of you would comment that the guide did this with malicious intent. He survived by luck alone. Let us focus on those who lost their lives and the families of those people. A terrible loss.

2008-05-05 09:57:19

Who is this guide? Has his name be released?

2008-05-04 18:45:56

"And yet the guide survived..." Do you think he was planing this? A trip to the cemetery in ArgentiƩre is an eye-opener to see the huge number of guides that have died in the mountains in that area alone. Best practise of course is not to be out at all in Level 4 conditions if possible. Stay safe

2008-05-03 12:53:53

I think it's better to remark that the guide survival was due to mere luck. He was lucky because he survived an almost 200m fall (it was the fall that killed the rest of the group, not the snow). And he was lucky because the Aosta rescue decided to fly another search well after sunset, and they saw him moving - he wouldn't have probably survived through the night if left in the open.

No need to think about other reasons...

2008-05-03 08:21:04

And yet the guide survived...

2008-05-03 02:29:23

Awful, awful news, I felt ill when they showed the video of the rescue on BBC.

2008-05-02 17:31:45
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