Family ‘heartbroken’ after Britons die in avalanche

Kate Vokes, 54, and her son Archie Vokes, 22, who died when an avalanche swept through an off-piste area of a French ski resort on Thursday.
Image caption,Kate Vokes, 54, and her son Archie, 22

By Harrison Jones

BBC News

A British skier and her 22-year-old son killed in an avalanche in France have been named.

The family of Kate Vokes, 54, and Archie Vokes say they are “beyond heartbroken” by the “tragic accident”.

The pair, from Manchester, died when an avalanche swept through an off-piste area near the French ski resort of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains on Thursday.

They were close to Mont Blanc, near the Swiss border, when the avalanche hit at about 15:30 local time (14:30 GMT).

A statement from the family on Sunday read: “We are beyond heartbroken at the loss of our beloved, wonderful Kate and Archie.

“Words cannot express how terrible we all feel nor the hole in our lives that has been left by this tragic accident.

“We kindly ask for privacy as we grieve together as a family.”

Mr Vokes was a personal trainer at Form in Manchester, and in the previous year had achieved his level 1 ski instructor qualification in Canada.

Ms Vokes was chair of the Oglesby Charitable Trust, a director of their family-owned property company Bruntwood, deputy chair of the Royal Exchange Theatre and a trustee of charities Shared Health and Focused Care.

The Royal Exchange Theatre said staff were “absolutely devastated” by the news of Ms Vokes’ death. In a tribute posted on Facebook, it described her as “remarkable” and “our dear friend, colleague and tireless supporter”.

Also paying tribute on social media, the Shared Health Foundation said it was “shocked and saddened” by the “tragic news”.

The Bonneville public prosecutor’s office say that a manslaughter investigation had been opened by police in nearby Chamonix.

Mother and son were said to have been with a guide they had known for years and were part of a group of five people from the same family when the incident occurred.

Local authorities say the avalanche began at an altitude of around 2,300 metres (7,546 feet) and travelled around 400 metres. Officials added it may have been triggered by another party of skiers at a higher altitude.

The mother and son were found after around five hours of searching by 20 first responders and two helicopters, Bonneville prosecutor Karline Bouisset explained in a previous statement.

Contrary to previous reports, it is now thought the guide accompanying the family was not wearing an avalanche beacon. The devices are used to locate those in the snow.

Saint-Gervais mayor Jean-Marc Peillex said: “It’s terrible what happened”, the Associated Press reported.

“A family is decimated, and we are very sad in Saint-Gervais.”

A Foreign Office spokesperson said previously: “We are supporting the family of two British people who died in France and are in contact with the local authorities.”

Around 110 people are caught in avalanches every year in France, leading to about 30 deaths.

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