London, Feb. 23: A 13-year-old Indian girl from the Guru Nanak Sikh Academy in Hayes, west London, has fallen to her death in a skiing tragedy in the Italian Alps during a half term school trip, it was confirmed today.
Reports said Poonam Bhattal, from Slough, fell 24ft from a ski lift in the incident, which occurred yesterday in a resort of Claviere in the province of Turin near the French border.
It is a British tradition to encourage children to go on adventurous holidays as part of the process of building character and the ability to get on with others — and have a much-needed break from lessons.
Despite periodic swimming and skiing tragedies, this policy is unlikely to change though schools are more conscious than ever of the need to ensure the safety of pupils in the care of teachers.
However, reluctantly Indian parents from even ultra orthodox families are now allowing their daughters to go on mixed school trips.
A foreign and commonwealth office spokesperson said: “We can confirm the death of a British national on Friday 22 February in Italy. We are providing consular assistance at this sad time.”
Witnesses reported that Poonam initially survived the fall but died while on way to hospital, 25 miles away in Susa.
Local police commissioner Francesco Destro was quoted as saying that the girl answered questions when officers rushed to her aid but “did not make it”.
“The ski lift was moving very fast and rising fast when she fell,” he added.
It is unclear whether the safety bar holding Poonam in was open.
The ski school director, Marco Steffanini, revealed that Poonam fell down “standing up”.
“Now there is an investigation in progress to understand how she can fall down with the safety bar closed,” he said. “Before she fell down she was grabbing for the safety bar and the men (operating) the lift saw this, stopped the lift... but it was too late.”
The Guru Nanak Sikh Academy’s principal, Rajinder Singh Sandhu, broke the news of the teenager’s death to her devastated family.
He explained that the half-term excursion was led by the school’s vice-principal with the help of two assistant head teachers and “a massively experienced team of eight staff”.
“The leader of this trip and everyone associated with it is devastated by the death of an absolutely lovely student,” he went on. “The vice-principal leading the trip has vast experience, having led 28 such trips throughout his teaching career. He is obsessive about safety and security on these trips. It would be inappropriate for the school to comment further, given that there must be no prejudice to the very thorough investigation that will take place by Italian authorities.”
Holiday firm Skibound, which organised the trip, said in a statement: “Skibound regrets to confirm that a pupil from Guru Nanak Sikh Academy in Hayes, Middlesex, has been involved in a fatal incident in the ski resort of Claviere in the Piemonte region of Italy on 22nd February at 09:30 CET.”
The statement went on: “The company’s operations centre received notification from the resort manager that a female pupil had been involved in an incident on a chairlift during her morning ski school lesson. The rescue team from the Italian emergency services arrived at the scene, but unfortunately she was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital.”
Poonam’s death came just hours before the funeral of 10-year-old Jemima Prees, from Wiltshire, who died earlier this month in a ski accident in the Austrian Alps. Jemima was killed when she hit a tree at high speed while on a half-term holiday at the Mayrhofen resort near Tyrol with her family.
Poonam’s friends took to Twitter to pay her tribute.
One user, @jaskiretxo, said: “Poonam Bhattal a beautiful girl who we were all so lucky to have known, may our thoughts be with Amreeta and her family. RIP beautiful xox.”
Another, @TharanVirdi, posted a photo of a girl wearing black-rimmed glasses, and said: “Poonam, You will be dearly missed, thoughts and prayers go out to your family. Waheguru #gonetoosoon #RipPoonam x.”
A tweeter, probably a classmate, @SashaStrikerx0x, said: “OhMy R.I.P - Poonam Bhattal. Everytime i’d walk past Poonam’d be like ‘Oii, Put your blazer on please’ God Take Care Of You Now. Life taken away before your marriage? Before your job? Before kids?... Cherish the moments you have.”