Kiwi skier killed in avalanche potentially caused by French police

An experienced skier and one of the top mountain guides in New Zealand died Monday morning in an avalanche in the French Alps that some are saying may have been unintentionally triggered by a group of French high mountain police.

Russell Braddock, a 60-year-old Kiwi mountain guide was climbing up the Mont Blanc du Tacul mountain in the Chamonix section of the French Alps when a slab avalanche was triggered on the north face of the mountain.

The avalanche swept up Braddock, who had been ascending the mountain on his skis, along with two members of the Chamonix PGHM (a French high mountain police force) who had been performing training near the top of the mountain.

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Video of the large avalanche was posted online by multiple witnesses:

While the two French police emerged unscathed, Braddock was not so lucky. Braddock’s body was recovered from the avalanche field shortly after the slide occurred, but CPR efforts were fruitless, and the 60-year-old mountain guide was pronounced dead.

Now, those who most closely knew Braddock are expressing their grief over his passing while also stating their dismay that Braddock may have died because of someone else’s error.

“The accident wasn’t due to poor decision making or anything on Russell’s part,” Guy Cotter, the CEO of Adventure Consultants, a New Zealand adventure sport outfitter where Braddock used to work, told Newstalk ZB. “It was just a very unfortunate accident that occurred because of the pressure of people in the mountains over in the Alps, the number of people who were around, and unfortunately these events can occur.”

Cotter went on to state that Russell had been involved in mountaineering since 1975, was keenly aware of avalanche risks and was one of the most experienced mountain guides in all of New Zealand. He said that Braddock had moved to Chamonix to pursue his love of mountain guiding year-round, and was often mountain climbing even on his days off.

“Today we lost a friend, a hero and an all round awesome human being in an Avalanche in France,” one of Braddock’s friends wrote on Facebook. “He lived his life truly doing what he loved and inspired and taught many of us to do the same. My thoughts are with you Russboy, forever in the mountains.”

Now, an investigation into what exactly caused the avalanche will take place and center around interviewing the two French police also swept up in the avalanche.

According to Chamonix News and The Local, an independent investigator and prosecutor will review the case and decide whether the French police were at fault.

Braddock’s reputation in the New Zealand mountaineering community is indelible, and he recorded multiple first ascents inside the country including on the west face of Mount Taranaki and the south face of Mount Hicks.

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