Marie Couttet, the leader of the expedition, instinctively wanted to turn back, but no one in the group listened to him. All the climbers departed on the dangerous snow-covered trail. Six hours after their departure, they were trapped in an avalanche. Three pathfinders were missing. This was the first tragedy that marked the inhabitants of Chamonix. It led to the creation of the Chamonix Guides’ Company.
"I witnessed real human carnage on a warship, I have never suffered like I suffered in the presence of this horrible struggle." (The words of one of Hamel’s friends during the deadly avalanche)
Another disaster on the southern face of Mont Blanc
In 1956, two experienced athletes, François Henry and Jean Vincendon ventured to climb the Brenva spur. On that day too, the weather was unpredictable. After some thought, the climbers decided to continue their journey and were joined by the Italian, Walter Bonatti. The next day, a violent wind forced the group of men to stop for a whole night. At dawn, the Italian took the lead of the expedition in order to help his companions. Jean Vincendon and François Henry were about to live the worst moments of their lives. Exhausted, the two climbers tried to retrace their steps back to Chamonix. They got lost in the ice and stopped their descent. Defeated by the mountain, Henry and Vincendon stayed five days and nights alone in a temperature of -30°C. The rescuers tried hard to get them out of this desperate situation. A helicopter crashed on the serac. The bad weather made any kind of intervention impossible. The two men died in the body of the Sikorsky S58. This human disaster raised questions for mountain rescuers. In 1958, the rescuers organized themselves and became true high mountain rescue professionals. They still use their helicopters and now have modern high-tech equipment.
The town of Chamonix paid a tribute to these two climbers with a commemorative plaque on which it is written:
"After having succeeded the ascension of the Brenva on December 26, 1956, they remained blocked in extreme conditions for several days on the Grand Plateau without the rescuers managing to save them. As a token of compassion for their suffering and admiration for their courage." 3/01/07 Town of Chamonix Mont-Blanc