Words 'cannot describe' our loss - husband of avalanche victim

Former Otago woman Katherine Clarke was killed in an avalanche in Italy. Photo: Supplied
Former Otago woman Katherine Clarke was killed in an avalanche in Italy. Photo: Supplied
The husband of the high-flying former Otago woman killed in an avalanche in the Italian Alps says "words cannot describe the loss we feel after Sunday’s accident".

Katherine Clarke (39) had been working as a corporate lawyer at Barclays Bank in London, alongside her New Zealand-born husband Jim Clarke-Sullivan, in recent years.

She was confirmed as among four people killed in an avalanche after being engulfed and buried under 1.8m of snow near Courmayeur.

In a statement provided to the Otago Daily Times, Mr Clarke-Sullivan said: Words cannot describe the loss we feel after Sunday’s accident.

"Katherine was an amazing mother who loved our daughter, Isla, very deeply and was completely devoted to her.

"We enjoyed 14 years together and were looking forward to celebrating our ninth wedding anniversary on Wednesday.

"I have so many stories to tell Isla about her mum, who was always brave, always calm, bright and happy. Katherine had an adventurous spirit which found its home in the mountains."

He said she was a very experienced backcountry skier and climber and had climbed mountains all over the world, including becoming the first New Zealand woman to have climbed and skied the three highest peaks in Greenland.

"She was always meticulous and careful in everything she did, and though she was killed in a tragic accident, it was doing something that she loved.

"She also loved her career and was very close to her team, many of whom were friends and were with her in the Alps. She will be missed beyond words."

Among the four killed was her colleague Matt Ziegler.

Her Dunedin mother-in-law, Jill Sullivan, told the Otago Daily Times the couple had been due to celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary yesterday.

Instead, the couple's 2-year-old daughter Isla had been left without a mother, and Mr Clarke-Sullivan had been asked to identify his wife's body.

Former Otago woman Katherine Clarke was killed in an avalanche in Italy. Photo: Supplied
Former Otago woman Katherine Clarke was killed in an avalanche in Italy. Photo: Supplied
''He is oscillating from devastation and deep, deep grief, to being aware that there are protocols to go through, such as ... transport of her body back to London.

''It's gut-wrenching. It's one of those things where you hold yourself together ... or you are absolutely weeping, thinking about a little motherless girl.''

Mrs Clarke was on a skiing trip with a group of Barclays colleagues when the accident happened.

Initial information suggested she and a colleague - both more experienced skiers - had gone off-piste, before being caught in the avalanche, Mrs Sullivan said.

The alarm was raised on Sunday, when Mrs Clarke failed to turn up to fly back to London and her colleagues checked her hotel room.

Her body, along with those of her colleague and two other unrelated people also caught in the avalanche, was recovered yesterday.

Mrs Clarke was raised on a farm near Balclutha, went to school in Dunedin and studied at the University of Otago.

She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in history, with first-class honours, as well as a law degree, before working at Chapman Tripp in Wellington, where she met her husband-to-be and ''soul-mate''.

The pair moved to Abu Dhabi in 2010, and later to London, where they both worked for Barclays Bank while enjoying an adventurous life of travel, Mrs Sullivan said.

That included skiing and snowboarding, rock climbing and biking through ''all sorts of countries'', Mrs Sullivan said.

''They have had a very, very adventurous life.''

Mrs Sullivan had accompanied the couple on trips to Italy, France and Switzerland and said of Mrs Clarke: ''I loved her very much.

''She was a very competent woman, but also very much able to have fun, and laugh, and enjoy things.''

Mrs Clarke's immediate family were already on their way to London, where arrangements were being made to bring her body from Italy.


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