ESTHER Dingley suffered a lethal fall of up to 100ft into a rocky crevice after slipping in worn walking shoes without spikes in a moment of ‘possible thoughtlessness’, investigators believe.
The horrifying theory of how the British hiker, 37, came to die in the French Pyrenees has been put forward by state prosecutor Christophe Amunzateguy.
He is leading the investigation into the tragedy which unfolded last November, as Oxford graduate Esther attempted a solo hike from Spain into France on the mountain range.
Her boyfriend, Dan Colegate, 38, uncovered her corpse on Monday, together with hiking kit, including brightly coloured clothes and a yellow sleeping mat.
She was wearing a pair of worn La Sportiva hiking shoes, but not a Kahtoola Microspikes traction system that she had with her.
The spikes are marketed as the “gold standard” crampon-style add-ons for mountains “in frozen conditions.”
But it is thought Esther was solely using the shoes, because weather conditions were relatively good.
“The configuration of the site leads us very clearly towards a fall of about 20 metres (92ft) or 30 metres (98,4ft),” said Mr Amunzateguy, as he discussed an initial investigation of the accident scene.
He said the shoes were worn after months of use, and “clearly the soles were a bit smooth.”
Discussing the latest in the case today, Mr Amunzateguy said that Esther may have slipped over a cliff edge in a moment of “possible thoughtlessness.”
This was despite the 37-year-old being a highly experienced hiker, who was well equipped to tackle the snow-capped mountains in winter.
Specialist French search teams made up of mountain police and soldiers supported by aircraft and sniffer dogs had completely failed to locate Esther’s last known remains over eight months.
This was despite a bone from Esther’s skull being found close to her last known route on the Porte de la Gléré mountain pass two weeks ago.
Acknowledging the failure, Mr Amunzateguy said Mr Colegate had “systematically retraced” Esther’s route.
He said the body was in a zone that had “not yet been targeted” by French officers, who were operating in harsh weather conditions.
The distance between her remains and the skull fragment is believed to have been made when a bear or a wolf dragged the skull to its resting place, reports say.
Brown bears and wolves roam free in the Pyrenees and vultures are a common sight.
An autopsy is due to be carried out on Esther’s corpse, which is currently in Toulouse.
Mr Colegate was believed to have been searching alone when he found it and alerted officers.
Criminal Investigation Technicians (ICTs) from Toulouse were today still up in the mountains, examining the scene, and trying to find further lost items, including Ms Colegate’s yellow Lanshun Ultralight tent.
Mr Amunzateguy said he had given his team “a month to investigate, so that they could work in peace and try to find out what happened.”
As public prosecutor of St-Gaudens, Mr Amunzateguy has been tasked with investigating Esther’s death and is being supported by judicial police and other agencies.
He has the power to escalate the case into a full-blown criminal enquiry if compelling evidence of foul play emerges, but at present a “tragic accident” is being prioritised.
Dan, who met Esther when they were students at Oxford, was the first focus of the missing person inquiry.
Detectives checked his phone data and credit card transactions and found he had not left the French village of Larroque-sur-l’Osse, 100 miles north of where Esther, from Durham, is believed to have died in an accident.
He said at the time: “I was glad they got it out of the way but I never felt like a suspect.”