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Five French Climbers Perish in Alps Tragedy

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,