TRIBUTES have been paid to a housing group director who died in an avalanche in the French Alps.
John Taylor, 48, was one of nine mountaineers killed following a huge avalanche near Chamonix on Thursday.
Dad-of-two Mr Taylor was Director of Resources at Vela Group, which runs Housing Hartlepool.
Mr Taylor, who was based in the firm’s Hartlepool headquarters and lived in North Yorkshire, leaves wife Karine and daughters Emma, 10, and eight-year-old Louise.
He was one of three Britons killed as they climbed Mont Maudit – translated as Cursed Mountain – in the Mont Blanc range near Chamonix.
Roger Payne and Steve Barber were the other climbers who were killed in the tragedy.
The trio had been tackling the mountain in a fundraising mission for a North Yorkshire-based hospice.
Cath Purdy, chief executive of the Vela Group, said: “This is an enormous tragedy and all John’s many work friends have been left absolutely devastated by his death.
“He died doing something that he loved, climbing was his real passion. He was planning a charity expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro in February next year.
“Everyone at Vela shares with me an absolute sense of loss and sadness.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with John’s wife Karine and his two children at this incredibly sad time and we will offer them any support they need.
“John was a kind, gentle man, who was well-loved and always had time for his many friends. He was instrumental in creating the Vela Group and helping us to deliver quality homes for families across the Tees Valley.”
The avalanche also claimed the lives of two Spanish climbers, three Germans and one Swiss.
All the climbers were part of a 28-strong group which included independent climbers and others supervised by professional mountaineering guides.
At around 5.20am on Thursday, French authorities received reports that an avalanche had hit several groups of mountaineers who were roped together on the northern face of Mont Maudit at 4,000 metres.
Several dozen French police and other rescuers along with two helicopters were sent to the scene to pull the dead and injured from the mountain. Nine people were taken to hospital in Sallanches with minor injuries, including several suffering fractures.
Foreign Secretary William Hague sent his condolences to the friends and families of those affected, saying he was “very saddened” by the tragedy.
A church service is being held in Chamonix this afternoon in memory of the dead climbers.
John’s wife Karine said: “We are all truly devastated about this loss.
“John always had a keen interest in outdoor activities, taking up mountaineering in 1998 and was a highly regarded and very active member of mountain rescue teams himself.
“John had climbed several challenging mountains across the world, including Mont Blanc on two previous occasions.
“He was a highly respected climber and this event represents a significant loss to the UK climbing community.
“In his personal life, John was a finance director, working within the public and private sectors.
“He will be sadly missed by his work colleagues.
“The family would like to pay tribute to the Mountain Rescue teams based in France and elsewhere that tried to save John and his good friend Steve.
“They would also like to thank the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the assistance offered and provided at this time.”
John, originally from Manchester, moved to Poppleton in 2003. He leaves behind his wife Karine and his two daughters, Emma, 10, and eight-year-old Louise.