Dad’s grief at Rachel death plunge

Rachel Ward tragically froze to death aged 20 after falling into a river in the Val D'Isere ski resort. A coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Rachel Ward tragically froze to death aged 20 after falling into a river in the Val D'Isere ski resort. A coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death.

A GRIEVING dad has said a “false horizon” was to blame after his daughter tumbled into an icy river and froze to death on a skiing holiday.

Promising student Rachel Ward, of Halifax, died aged 20 after a night of drinking with friends in the French resort of Val D’Isère.

But speaking at her inquest, her father Colin said police there had “exaggerated” the role of alcohol in the tragedy.

Mr Ward said: “The main issue around Rachel’s loss is she saw a false horizon.

“I visited that site several times during my time in France and it really was very difficult to see.

“It’s very frightening, actually.”

Rachel spent the evening of January 12, 2009, with friends from Durham University, where she was in her second year of studying natural sciences. More than 170 students were on the trip, organised by Manchester travel company On the Piste.

The inquest heard Rachel had been drinking vodka with Fanta before going to The Morris pub, near the centre of the resort, where she downed several shots.

She left alone at around 00.30am and refused to be escorted back to her chalet, the hearing at Halifax Coroner’s Court was told.

Soon after, she called friends to say she was lost, but then believed she had found her way again and told them she was okay.

It was the last time she was heard from again.

A chalet maid raised the alarm in the morning when she realised Rachel had not returned to her room at Le Chalet du Jardin Alpin, where she had been staying with five friends.

Her body was found partly submerged in the River Isère at around 9.30am.

Consultant pathologist Dr Richard Knights, who carried out a post-mortem in the UK, concluded that she died of hypothermia caused by immersion in cold water.

Toxicology tests found blood alcohol levels of 175 micrograms per 100 millilitres. It equates to around seven units - the same as four pints of beer or seven single spirit measures.

A translated French report of her last movements said the “large amount” she had drunk, and the fact she was in strange surroundings, were factors in the tragedy.

Acting coroner Paul Marks recorded a verdict of accidental death.

He said: “She became disorientated during that night, probably due to a combination of taking some alcohol, the presence of a false horizon near a river, and by virtue of being in unfamiliar surroundings in a foreign country.”

Mr Ward was too distressed to speak after the hearing.

Rachel, of Wood End Close, Skircoat Green, was a former pupil at Bradford Girls’ Grammar and Greenhead College in Huddersfield.

She was treasurer of Durham University’s hockey club and a regular player for its third team.

The club’s captain Phil Mutlow was among the many friends to pay tribute to her after she died.

He said: “Rachel was one of the best - she always had a smile on her face and was lovely to be around.”