Vincendon And Henry Epilogue

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On the 16th of March authorisation was given by the Préfet to recover the bodies of the two climbers. 28 guides were sent to bring them back for burial. They quickly found Jean Vincendon, lying exactly where they’d left him on New Year’s eve but of François Henry there was no trace. Finally they discovered him, frozen by the lower door. It seems possible he’d heard the passage of the Alouette on the 3rd of January and had tried to climb out, but not far enough to be noticed by the circling pilots. A final triumph of will over the despair of his situation.

Commander Legall

Commander Le Gall speaks to the Press

After the death of Vincendon and Henry recriminations started to fly. Terry quit the Comapgnie des Guides de Chamonix in disgust. The rescue operation was seen as far too slow and badly coordinated. With winter routes becoming more and more popular it was clear to the government that the rescue services had to be put on a more professional basis and equipped with the Alouette which had proved its worth during the operation.

Jean Vincendon's father in Chamonix

Jean Vincendon's father in Chamonix

Claude Dufourmantelle, now a respected high mountain guide, is emotional when he recalls the events of that fateful Christmas a half century ago. For him it came down to money. If they had offered to pay the Chamonix guides they would have gone to the rescue of the stricken climbers but he understands the guide’s reluctance, seeing it as normal. Many were either busy with winter jobs or instructing skiing in the valley. To have gone to Vincendon and Henry’s aid would have risked their lives and livelihoods. Something that they simply could not afford to do without compensation. He also makes that point that the two men were in a deplorable state, maybe better to be laid to rest on Mont Blanc than to have their limbs amputated due to frost-bite, that is if they had lived at all.


Naufrage au Mont Blanc; Ballu, Yves. Glénat. A superb document of the Vincendon and Henry affair with a great deal of background information on the two climbers. This is the French "Touching the void"

Secours en Montagne; Philippe Poulet and Christophe Raylat, Didier Richard. Account of the French mountain rescue services to the present day.

Les naufragés du Mont Blanc; Paris Match, 30 pages article in three editions. January 1957

Interview with Claude Dufourmantelle on French Television.

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