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Climber found - 35 years later

12 February 2014, 18:53

Geneva - The body of a British climber missing since 1979 has been found on the Matterhorn peak in the Swiss Alps, after emerging from melting ice, police said on Tuesday.

He was identified by his family as Jonathan Conville, a former paratrooper who had gone on to work at a mountain sports centre near in the Scottish Highlands.

"Jonathan's remains were recovered, have been cremated and his ashes will rest in Zermatt," the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust, set up by his family to encourage young climbers, said on its website.

Zermatt is a hub for climbers scaling the peaks of the Swiss Alps, notably the nearby 4 478m Matterhorn, whose pyramidal shape makes it one of the world's most recognisable mountains.

Thanks to DNA tests, experts have finally been able to identify the remains of the climber, who was reported missing on December 29, 1979.

Swiss police said human bones were spotted by a mountain rescue helicopter pilot on the north face of the Matterhorn in August 2013.

A police team recovered the remains and equipment including an ice-axe - and clothing with a "Conville" name tag, according to Scottish newspaper The Herald.

The Herald said that a Swiss forensic pathologist searched for the name Conville on the Internet and made contact with relatives after discovering the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust, set up by his family in his memory.

"As soon as I saw the email was from a Swiss pathology laboratory, I knew they'd found Jonathan," his sister, Melissa Conville, was quoted as saying by The Herald.

She and Conville's other sister Katrina Taee then travelled to Switzerland to identify their brother's equipment and provide DNA samples.

"It was poignant. There was a mummified hand, with nails and skin, and cupped, as if it was waiting to be held," Taee told The Herald.

"It was 34 years on and I was holding my brother's hand. It was bittersweet but wonderful. It took ages for the DNA results to come through but they confirmed what we already knew."

Thanks to technological advances that have boosted search operations, cases of climbers reported missing over recent years rarely remain unsolved.

But as Alpine glaciers melt due to global warming, the remains of long-lost climbers have increasingly emerged from the shrinking mountain ice.

Police for the Swiss canton of Valais hold a database of some 280 missing climbers, stretching back to 1926.


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