Father and son plunged to their deaths in the Alps

Memory book for Charlie Saunders
Memory book for Charlie Saunders

A grieving widow has told of a final tragic text from her husband and young son saying “having a great time” minutes before they plunged to their deaths in the Alps.

Experienced hiker Peter Saunders, 48, and his son Charlie, 12, disappeared during a trek in the Chamonix Valley close to Mont Blanc.

Charlie Saunders of Maids Moreton who died in The Alps

Charlie Saunders of Maids Moreton who died in The Alps

Mr Saunders rang French Mountain Police to say his son had fallen out of sight at around 3pm.

At 7.40am the next morning the bodies of the pair, who had been hiking at 5,000ft on the 15,781ft mountain, were found down a deep gully.

Charlie had fallen about 980ft and his father was discovered about 150ft above him.

Mr Saunders’ wife and Charlie’s mother Sandra Saunders, 47, today told an inquest into their deaths how she struggled to get any information from French Police.

The inquest in Milton Keynes heard how Mr Saunders sent his wife a text message and photo saying they were both ‘having a great time’ on March 16, 2013.

She told the inquest remembered thinking it was “not quite right” when her husband had failed to respond to her messages by nightfall.

Mrs Saunders, who had stayed at home in Maid Moreton, near Milton Keynes, was visited by police at 8.30pm that day and told her son was missing.

The mother-of-two, who speaks conversational French, told how she then spent hours through the night trying to contact Mountain Police, but couldn’t get any information.

The next day she received a call telling her the bodies of Mr Saunders and Charlie had been found.

Her frustration was shared by the Milton Keynes Coroner’s office which struggled to get any reports on the incident from French authorities.

Mrs Saunders told the inquest: “They didn’t want to talk to me at all and were very vague.

“It was just really frustrating, it seemed like to us they weren’t even looking and obviously they gave us no information so we didn’t know the circumstances they knew.”

The inquest was told Mr Saunders, a businessman, was a very experienced skier and hiker and the family spent time in the Alps every year, with Charlie first going skiing aged two.

After deciding to go away for the weekend, Mr Saunders mapped out the route for him and Charlie to go hiking after discussing it with his friend, Steve Elsworth, also an experienced climber.

Mrs Saunders, a housewife, said: “I didn’t feel the need to ask him to show me the maps but he reassured me he knew what he was doing, it was a very gentle and fun walk.”

Mr Elsworth told the coroner the route Mr Saunders had discussed with him would have been a ‘gentle’ hike through the woods.

He said they would more than likely have had to turn back early due to snowfall.

Both Mr Saunders and Mr Elsworth had taken courses on mountain hiking and were deemed by experienced guides competent enough to go out on their own.

When asked about equipment, Mr Elsworth said the pair wouldn’t have needed any on the route they discussed.

He added: “Peter was a very competent person, very good at making things happen, I certainly valued his friendship and support in my life.”

Assistant Coroner Elizabeth Gray recorded a verdict that the pair died as a result of misadventure on March 17, 2013, while on a weekend away.

The cause of deaths were given as multiple injuries.

She said the father and son made better progress than they thought they would as the weather was fine.

Mrs Gray said: “It was a beautiful sunny day and it is clear that Peter and Charlie made better progress than they anticipated and from the location they were found they had progressed to location that could have been dangerous.

“That’s where they ended up and that’s where they clearly fell.

“There was no intention to go to the junction but for whatever reason Peter and Charlie did make it up that far.”

The inquest heard no reports on the incident have been supplied by French authorities despite repeated requests made through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Mrs Gray said: “We’ve had nothing back despite over two years of making these requests.”

But she told the family the input could be of little value anyway as it is thought nobody witnesses exactly what happened to the father and son.

After giving her verdict today, the coroner added: “Don’t let this be your memory of Peter and Charlie.

“Think of all these wonderful things that you told me about because that is the most important thing.”

Paying tribute to her husband, Mrs Saunders said: “Peter was a father who wanted his children to live life to the full.

“We don’t have an XBox or a Playstation, we live in the real world and we try to help them have experiences to grow up as responsible, mature people who can contribute to society.”

She said her husband was “an exceptional person” who “put family at the heart of everything”

Mrs Saunders said her son Charlie, who attended the Royal Latin School, in Buckingham, “happy, jolly person”.

She said: “Charlie was quite like Peter, they shared the same love of outdoor stuff, anything sporty.

“He had blonde hair, was very prim all the time so the girls loved him to.

“He was a very happy, jolly person to be with, he was good fun.”

The Saunders also have a teenage daughter called Kate.

Verdicts: Death by misadventure