• Avalanche victims named as Steve Barber & John Taylor
  • Both had children at Poppleton Ousebank Primary
  • Head teacher tells of "great sadness"
  • They were raising money for St Leonard's Hospice
  • Charity: "We are devastated"
  • Seven others killed in tragedy

A CLOSE-KNIT York community is in mourning today after two residents were killed in a devastating avalanche in the French Alps.

John Taylor and Steve Barber, both of Pear Tree Avenue in Poppleton,were among nine climbers killed in the avalanche at 5am yesterday, the Foreign Office confirmed today. Eleven others were injured.

Mr Barber, 47, and 48-year-old Mr Taylor were raising money through the trip for St Leonard's Hospice. Both men were parents of children at Poppleton Ousebank Primary School, and head teacher Estelle O'Hara has written to parents to tell them of the tragedy.

She wrote: "It is with great sadness that I write to inform you that two of the climbers killed in yesterday’s avalanche in the French Alps, were parents from Poppleton Ousebank - Steve Barber, father of Frankie in Year 5 and John Taylor, father of Emma in Year 5 and Louise in Year 3.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to both Donna Rogers and Karine Taylor who have both lost their life long partners.

"Children have been informed and school staff have been supporting them throughout the day, providing a caring shoulder and answering any questions that children may have."

She asked that the families' privacy be respected and said the school would now collect for St Leonard’s Hospice on their behalf.

Mr Taylor was Group Resources Director at Vela Group, a housing organisation based in the North East. He had previously worked for Tristar Homes, North Tyneside and Hull City Councils, Railway Performance Ltd and Balfour Beatty Rail.

Janet Morley, director of fundraising for St Leonard's Hospice, said: "In May, St Leonard’s heard from his partner Donna that Steve Barber intended to do an ice-climb on Mont Blanc and had chosen to raise funds for St Leonard’s Hospice in York as an important local charity.

"As far as we are aware, he had no direct link with the hospice, so we were very pleased to hear that he recognised the important part the hospice plays in York and the surrounding area, and we were looking forward to the photographs he promised to bring back from this adventure to use on the hospice’s website.

"We are devastated to hear of Steve’s death and the deaths of John Taylor and Roger Payne, as well as of the other victims. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends today."

In total, 28 people were climbing in the Mont Blanc Massif, roped together in groups, when they were hit.

Roger Payne, a British climbing expert living in Switzerland and the former president of the British Mountain Guides, was the third Briton killed in the avalanche, the worst mountaineering tragedy in France for 12 years. None of the injured climbers is British.

Manuel Valls, the French Interior Minister, has called the disaster "catastrophic" and said a church service will be held in Chamonix tomorrow to remember the dead climbers. The local police commander today said the avalanche would have been difficult to forecast and said the climbers were all experienced.

He said: "The guides knew the route, they knew the danger perfectly well, and they knew the risk of avalanche, especially during July and August."

North Yorkshire mountaineer Alan Hinkes said today: “My thoughts go out to the families of the two people from York. I come from Northallerton which is not a million miles from York. It is a tragic accident. No one can be blamed. Accidents do happen. We climb to live, we don’t climb to die.”

In Poppleton, one woman who has lived on Pear Tree Avenue for many years, said: “As a community we are quite close and we all know each other. Everyone is devastated at this horrendous news. To have two people die from one street like this is just devastating.”

Coun James Alexander, leader of City of York Council, said: "I am deeply saddened by the news that two Poppleton residents lost their lives in Thursday's avalanche in Chamonix, France.

"I would like to offer their families and friends my condolences and offer any support and assistance we can provide at this difficult time."

Coun Ian Gillies, leader of the council's Conservative group and whose Rural West York ward includes Poppleton, said: "Devastated does not begin to cover it - it is so sad and difficult to put into words.

"It will have an impact on the whole village. The families of the two men who have died can be assured the village and the wider community will rally round and ensure they have support where needed in the days to come."

York Outer MP Julian Sturdy, whose constituency both men lived in, said: “It is absolutely shocking and hearbreaking to learn that two local men from Poppleton have lost their lives in such tragic circumstances in the Alps.

"At this horrendous and devastating time, my deepest sympathies, thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of both John Taylor and Steve Barber.”

The landlady of the Lord Collingwood pub, Gill Mather, said: "We have only just heard of the news and it's a big shock for all the village. It's especially sad as they had young children. It's just horrible."

As well as the three British climbers, the avalanche claimed the lives of two Spaniards, three Germans and one Swiss, according to the Prefecture de la Haute-Savoie.

They all were part of a 28-strong group which left a climbing hut to attempt the route, described by local guides the second most popular to the top of Mont Blanc, following a 1am breakfast.

The group included independent climbers and others supervised by professional mountaineering guides.

At around 5.20am, French authorities received reports that a slab avalanche had hit several groups of mountaineers who were roped together on the northern face of Mont Maudit at 13,123ft (4,000m).

Several dozen gendarmes and other rescuers along with two helicopters were sent to the scene to pull the dead and injured from the mountain. Nine people were taken to hospital in Sallanches with minor injuries.

The prefecture said some climbers had crossed the path of the avalanche before it hit and others were able to turn back. Describing the sequence of events, it said a block of ice 16in (40cm) thick broke off and slid down the slope, creating a mass of snow that was 6ft (2m) deep and 328ft (100m) long.

Regional authorities believe the avalanche may have been triggered by a climber accidentally snapping off a slab of ice on the mountain.

Mr Compton, of Ellesmere Port, and his climbing mate were reported missing along with two Spaniards following the tragedy. He later revealed he was half-an-hour behind the group caught up in the avalanche and had turned back to Chamonix after seeing the aftermath.

The 41-year-old said he did not realise there was a search party out for him or the scale of what had happened until he saw the news.

Foreign Secretary William Hague has sent his condolences to the friends and families of those affected, saying he was very saddened by the tragedy.

The Mont Blanc massif is a popular area for climbers, hikers and tourists but a dangerous one, with dozens dying on it each year.

Climbers had been warned to be careful earlier this summer because of an unusually snowy spring, while recent storms had apparently left dangerous overhanging conditions on some of the popular climbing routes around Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe.