VIENNA, Austria – A 12-year-old British boy on a school trip has died and his friend was hurt after they plunged down a ravine on a darkened Alpine mountain.
Hayden Waller was one of a group of four boys, aged from 12 to 14, who set out for an adventure that ended in tragedy at 5:15 p.m. yesterday afternoon.
The boys planned to climb up to a beauty-spot platform perched on the side of a mountain in Mallnitz in southern Austria, according to Austria's ORF television station.
They wanted to clamber up to the wooden structure rather than take the path and stairs to the top. But that involved trekking through thick forest, which has precarious crevasses and gorges which the boys did not see.
Hayden broke his neck and suffered severe head injuries when he plunged more than 30 feet. His friend's fall was stopped by a tree. The other boys were left in a state of shock but were otherwise unharmed, and the survivors raised the alarm.
Local police said the boy was travelling with a group from The Howard School at Rainham, near Gillingham in Kent. The dead boy’s parents, who it is understood were also on the school trip, are in Mallnitz.
Horst Wohlgemuth, the chief of police in Mallnitz, said: "The boys hiked cross-country through extremely dense forest — locals say that no adult would walk through there at this time of year, and it probably was the kids' adventurous spirit that took them there. In fact, the whole area where the platform is located is only meant for summer trips and in winter the platform is barely accessible even by the pathway.
"The boys accomplished about two thirds of their trek and were only 100 metres away from the platform, but they were caught by the arrival of darkness.
"It was still daylight when the boys left the hotel, but in winter in the Austrian mountains it often is a matter of minutes before it gets dark.
"The dead boy probably slipped as they all wore sneakers with no grip, and fell down an almost vertical rocky slope, injuring his head badly and breaking his neck."
One of the boys was going ahead of the others to look for the best route, said Mr Wohlgemuth. He stopped at one point and went back to his pals to tell them that there was no way ahead.
He was standing above the three other boys, slipped and fell down. Hayden tried to catch his friend but both then slipped backwards because their footwear had no grip.
The boy that fell first slid on his belly and landed in a tree after 10 feet, but Hayden fell backwards more than 30 feet bouncing from rock to rock down the almost vertical drop.
The three remaining boys tried to reach Hayden but could not get to him, and instead decided to make the trip down to the valley to get help, said the police chief. Near the bottom they met a walker who raised the alarm.
The boys returned to the hotel and told teachers what had happened.
Two of the teachers made a brave attempt to rescue Hayden by climbing to him and attempting to resuscitate him until rescue services arrived. The location was so dangerous that the teachers themselves needed to be given help to get back to safety.
The fire brigade used high-powered lights in darkness and high winds to guide in a rescue helicopter carrying the local emergency surgeon from nearby Spittal an der Drau. They said afterwards that Hayden had died immediately.
They flew the injured boy to hospital.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We are aware of the death of a British national in a fall in Mallnitz on February 18. He was on a school trip.
"Another boy was involved but was not seriously injured.
“We are in contact with local authorities and stand ready to provide consular assistance if asked.”