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The family of a British mother and her son who were killed in a French Alps avalanche are ‘beyond heartbroken’ following the ‘tragic accident’. 

Kate Vokes, 54, and her son Archie Vokes, 22, died when an avalanche swept through an off-piste area of the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains ski resort near Mont Blanc on December 28.

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. 

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

A family spokesperson said: ‘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.’ 

Family of British mother, 54, and her son, 22, were killed in French Alps avalanche are ‘beyond heartbroken’ following ‘tragic accident’ – as police hunt cross-country skiiers who may have sparked disaster

Kate Vokes, 54, and her son Archie Vokes, 22, died when an avalanche swept through an off-piste area of the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains ski resort near Mont Blanc on December 28

Mr Vokes (right) was a personal trainer at Form in Manchester, while Ms Vokes (left) 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

Mr Vokes (right) was a personal trainer at Form in Manchester, while Ms Vokes (left) 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

It took emergency responders five hours to recover the bodies of the mother and son

It took emergency responders five hours to recover the bodies of the mother and son

Investigators fear the mother and son were taken completely by surprise when hit by a torrent of ice and snow.

A wall of snow 400 metres long swept through the party at around 3.30pm on Thursday, at 2300m above sea level. 

It took emergency responders five hours to recover the bodies of those killed. 

Three other members of their family, including Ms Vokes’s husband, survived the Thursday afternoon disaster, along with their professional ski instructor, and two others.

All were experienced skiers, and were out on a day when the avalanche risk was just ‘moderate’.

Yesterday it was revealed that ‘two cross-country skiers were upslope’ and ‘could have caused the avalanche’, said Karline Bouisset, the prosecutor in Bonneville, near Grenoble.

The local prosecutor has opened an investigation into the incident with a possible manslaughter charge being filed on the two cross-country skiers.

Ms Bouisset has opened a criminal enquiry into ‘manslaughter’ while judicial police collect evidence.

She said the British party knew the ski area well, and that the risk at the time was just ‘moderate’ – level 2 out of 5 on the European Avalanche Danger Scale.

Investigators fear the mother and son (pictured) were taken completely by surprise when hit by a torrent of ice and snow

Investigators fear the mother and son (pictured) were taken completely by surprise when hit by a torrent of ice and snow 

The tragedy happened near the Mont-Joly chairlift located in the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains area

The tragedy happened near the Mont-Joly chairlift located in the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains area

Mountain rescue teams search the area of the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains ski resort near Mont Blanc where the avalanche occurred

Mountain rescue teams search the area of the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains ski resort near Mont Blanc where the avalanche occurred

A search team of 30 rescuers, supported by two helicopters, two dogs and a medical support team, took up to five hours to find the mother and son

A search team of 30 rescuers, supported by two helicopters, two dogs and a medical support team, took up to five hours to find the mother and son

A rescue helicopter takes of from a landing zone in the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains ski resort to aid the search for the skiers on Thursday

A rescue helicopter takes of from a landing zone in the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains ski resort to aid the search for the skiers on Thursday

Guy Le Nevé, deputy commander of the mountain search team in Chamonix, said: ‘This is an area reserved for very good skiers.

‘This is a group who had known the instructor very well for many years and who regularly came to ski in the area.’

He told MailOnline: ‘We believe the avalanche was caused by two cross country skiers above the group.

‘An avalanche expert has visited the scene and will provide a report for the prosecutor but it will take a few weeks.

‘We are looking for witnesses and will try and identify the cross country skiers but it will be up to the prosecutor to bring any charges.

‘Initially it was reported that the instructor had a locator beacon but that is incorrect, neither he nor the family involved were wearing one.

‘Two other people were also caught up in the avalanche further up and it was one of them who was wearing the locator.

‘That’s how we found them first and the whole search and rescue operation lasted until 8pm at night.’

While avalanche victim detectors are not compulsory for those choosing to ski off piste, they are recommended by Alexandre Merlin, director of the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains area (pictured)

While avalanche victim detectors are not compulsory for those choosing to ski off piste, they are recommended by Alexandre Merlin, director of the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains area (pictured)

The ordeal happened in an off-piste section of the French resort

The ordeal happened in an off-piste section of the French resort

Capitaine Guy Le Neve is the deputy commander of the mountain search team in Chamonix

Capitaine Guy Le Neve is the deputy commander of the mountain search team in Chamonix

A source in nearby Megeve where the instructor, named only as Arnaud, is based said: ‘The family are regulars and always use Arnaud. He’s been guiding and instructing for years and is one of the best.

‘He is independent and works only for himself and I see him a lot on the mountain but I don’t know him personally other than to say hello.

‘He’s obviously very shaken up by what happened and I don’t think he will be skiing for a while.’

But 30 rescuers, supported by two helicopters, two dogs and a medical support team, took up to five hours to find the mother and son.

‘By the time they were found, both victims were deceased,’ said Ms Bouisset.

Another investigating source said the five survivors who were not buried by snow ‘looked on as the others were swept away.’ 

‘This included the husband, who would have watched what was happening helplessly,’ said the source.

While avalanche victim detectors are not compulsory for those choosing to ski off piste, they are recommended by Alexandre Merlin, director of the ski area.

The avalanche swept through an off-piste area of the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains ski resort near Mont Blanc on December 28

The avalanche swept through an off-piste area of the Saint-Gervais-les-Bains ski resort near Mont Blanc on December 28

The instructor, who was the only skier wearing an avalanche victim detector, was found unharmed despite being completely buried with the two deceased Brits. Pictured: The rescuers

The instructor, who was the only skier wearing an avalanche victim detector, was found unharmed despite being completely buried with the two deceased Brits. Pictured: The rescuers

Dozens of mountain rescuers (pictured) set out to search for skiers who were trapped the mother and son and a third person injured. Five others were rescued

Dozens of mountain rescuers (pictured) set out to search for skiers who were trapped the mother and son and a third person injured. Five others were rescued

Mr Merlin said: ‘At the moment, it is very difficult to read the stability of the snow cover, the temperature fluctuations, and the freezing. It is difficult to be 100% confident about safety.’

Saint-Gervais Mayor Jean-Marc Peillex said the weather conditions were too unstable for such risky outings. 

‘It rained, it snowed, it was warm. There are enough marked paths to ski on,’ he told BFM television. 

‘It’s terrible what happened. A family is decimated, and we are very sad in Saint-Gervais.’

An autopsy is due to be carried out on the victims at Grenoble hospital next week.

There was another Alpine fatality on the same day when a 31-year-old man fell 500 metres from a rocky ridge in Chantepérier, in the Ecrins Massif.



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