Mont Blanc victim saved his brother on earlier climb
Best friends killed in Alps fall after breaking loose from their ascent ropes
Published 29/07/2014 | 02:30
A MAN who died after plummeting 200 metres on Mont Blanc had previously saved his brother's life during another perilous climb.
Colm Ennis (37), from Waterford city, and his friend Peter Britton (55), from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, fell to their deaths while climbing the Dent du Geant, or Giant's Tooth, section of western Europe's highest mountain on Sunday.
Mountain police in the Mont Blanc region, which runs along the French-Italian border, reported that the men got into difficulty in their climb when they "slipped" and "broke loose" from their ascent ropes.
Mr Britton's family described him and Mr Ennis as "firm friends" and described their deaths as "an unspeakable tragedy".
The men had travelled to the mountain range with the Rathgormack Climbing Club, which Mr Britton founded.
Father-of-three Mr Britton lived in Clonmel and worked as a senior civil engineer with Tipperary County Council. A colleague described him as "salt of the earth material".
"He was very outgoing. He loved the outdoors and was very big into mountaineering and rock climbing," they said.
Mr Ennis, from Lismore Park in Waterford, worked at Amazon's Customer Service operations in Co Cork and volunteered as a scout leader.
Mr Ennis received a Gold Merit medal for bravery from Scouting Ireland after saving the life of his brother Aidan, also a scout leader and climber, in the Dolomites in Italy three years ago.
Fellow scout leader David Collins said Mr Ennis climbed back up the mountain after a horrendous 60-metre fall in order to get coverage for his mobile.
He said that Mr Ennis did so with a broken arm and several other serious injuries.
"He kept Aidan alive as he was unconscious throughout the whole thing."
Mr Collins described him as "a great young fella" who will be "badly missed". "I've been ringing around telling people that he has died and everyone was very upset. He was very well liked. He was a fantastic friend to everyone."
Mr Britton had enthusiastically posted about the trip on the climbing club's Facebook page last week. He wrote: "We will be away for the next while, climbing an Alp or two."
It is believed that the two climbers had stayed in a small hotel on the Italian side of the Alps the night before their fall, before crossing into French territory. The two men were seen falling by other climbers some distance away, who called the mountain rescue service.
A team of emergency personnel reached the pair by helicopter within 15 minutes and found their bodies close to one another at the bottom of the slope.
A spokesperson for PGHM High Mountain Rescue said all indications were that the men were experienced and well-equipped climbers.
Mountaineering Ireland chief executive Karl Boyle described both men as "very experienced climbers" who had made a "huge contribution" to the sport at both a local and national level. He said: "They were two very experienced climbers that have climbed extensively together, both at home and abroad.
"They've been to the Alps many times and would have quite a few Alpine peaks and routes under their belts.
"They would have been well prepared and they would have been very aware of the risks of that environment."
He added: "They both gave a huge contribution to the sport. They would have encouraged a lot of young and not so young people into the sport and given them their first experiences of the mountains. We express our absolute sincere condolences to both families."
He warned: "Anyone going into the mountains anywhere has to be aware of the risks and those risks sadly include the chance of serious injury, or sometimes even death."
Mont Blanc is the most lethal mountain in Europe and there have been a spate of deaths there recently.
Last week, two Finnish climbers aged 25 and 40 were also killed on Mont Blanc, after slipping into a crevasse.
A spokesman from the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed last night that it was providing consular assistance to both of the Irishmen's families.