On the afternoon of Wednesday 27 July, a British mountaineer, Duncan Potts (28), former Royal Marine from Coldridge in Devon, died on The Dent du Géant (4,013 m) in the Mont-Blanc Massif, while climbing with friend Luke Stevens (23).
The climbing accident happened the pair's first day of climbing, after they left the United Kingdom on Tuesday 26 July for their four-day trip in the mountains.
According to Le Dauphine, the climbing accident occurred at about 4:15pm.
According to the statement of Luke Stevens, Duncan and Luke were at 3175m descending over mixed ice and rock terrain when they encountered a 4 meter steep descent. They secured the rope around a large boulder and Luke belayed the rope as Duncan descended.
While Duncan was climbing down, in a safe and controlled manner, with hands and feet on the rock, a slightly protruding rock immediately above him offered good purchase. But when his hand was placed on the rock, it detached hitting his head and shoulder. Despite the short distance of about 0.5m, the large size of the rock provided huge momentum and trauma to Duncan as it hit him. Duncan was forced away from the rock face violently and the large rock fell passed him, impacting a flatter surface 3m below where Duncan came to rest as well.
The rock was so unstable, that Luke was not able to climb down to his friend. Duncan was unresponsive to Luke's voice and then he tugged on the rope. Luke attempted to call the Chamonix PGHM with their phone number already in his phone's contact list.
“It took him about 15 minutes of trying before he could get a proper signal on his mobile phone to call for help,” declared Commandant Bozon.
The cellular signal can be variable in the massif, but after 15 mins the call terminated and the PGHM despatched a SAMU helicopter with a doctor on board.
Within minutes, the helicopter was above the accident site and the doctor was lowered to the climbers. The doctor pronounced Duncan dead. His body and Luke were taken off the mountain in the SAMU helicopter.
The commander Bozon, who also took part in the rescue mission, said that the rock was “as big as a car boot,” and the victim died instantly.
The victim Duncan Potts (28) from Coldridge, Devon, was an experienced climber and mountaineer who climbed as well the Matterhorn in Switzerland last summer. The man had recently left the Royal Marines, in April this year and was planning to do a physiotherapy degree. In June Duncan became engaged to his fiance.
This tragic accident demonstrates the high risk of climbing over mixed terrain, commonly perceived as less dangerous than vertical wall climbing.
The whole of the Mont-Blanc massif is a relatively young mountain, of brittle granite. Most of the rock faces are subject to repeat freeze/thaw activity, that can be daily in summer. The rock is unstable and huge rock falls are commonplace.