Drug-taking ski instructor responsible for death of top surgeon who fell to his death in French Alps

·3 min read
William Choi (SWNS)
William Choi (SWNS)

A drug-taking ski instructor has been found to be responsible for the death of a top cancer surgeon who plummeted 750ft to his death while on holiday with his family in France.

An inquest heard that, while under the influence of cannabis, Philippe Drigo agreed to move urology consultant William Choi to an advanced level group at the popular French alpine resort of La Plagne.

Later that day, the group had ventured away from the plotted ski run when suddenly dad-of-two Choi lost his skies and tumbled down a steep slope.

The surgeon's helmet came off when his head struck a "banana shaped" rock before he continued rolling down the hill.

Efforts to revive the urologist failed and he died a short time later having suffered traumatic neck and spinal injuries.

MARCH,01,2012, Les Arcs, France: Skiing and snowboarding in the mountain  Les arcs-La Plagne,  France.
Choi fell 750ft from the Alps resort. (PA)

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The skiing instructor was convicted of involuntary manslaughter by French prosecutors, an inquest in Maidstone heard.

On the day of the accident, the urologist asked if he could be moved into a higher group, headed by Drigo, so he could ski faster.

The instructor, who was responsible for supervising eight people, said the doctor had “underestimated” his own ability and should therefore join the higher-level group.

Eyewitnesses recalled how Choi had “listened and followed instructions” given by Drigo after reaching the top.

He began skiing down the 35-degree slope at speed but his skis caught an outcrop, causing him to tumble.

A post-mortem examination found Choi had died from neck and spinal injuries known as craniocervical and thoracic trauma.

Drigo denied taking drugs or alcohol when questioned by French police, but he was later found to be under the influence of cannabis.

This may have impacted his judgment, the inquest heard.

During questioning, Drigo said: "When William fell I could not do anything to avoid his fall because everything was very fast."

La Plagne, France - January 24, 2019: Station of the overhead cabin cable car Roche de Mio in ski resort La Plagne in France, part of Paradiski skiing area. People skiing, relaxing and enjoying views at the altitude of 2.700 m
La Plagne is a popular ski resort. (Getty)

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Investigators had found the snow was hard and icy, which made it difficult to ski, despite the instructor claiming it was “powdery”.

Patrols from the resort, who were called to help an unconscious Choi, later pointed out the difficulty these conditions pose.

While the area is not considered extreme, it is nevertheless reserved for experienced skiers” and “many falls” had taken place on the slope that morning, the inquest heard.

A couple, Helen and Roger Hughes, had quit Choi's group because they felt it was “too extreme” for them.

Hughes said: "In my opinion, the accident could have been avoided if the ski instructor had correctly assessed their ability."

The inquest also heard how low cloud and poor weather conditions had impacted the ability of skiers to assess the surroundings.

Assistant coroner Hayes said Choi concluded: "I am satisfied it would not be sufficient to say that it was simply an accident.

“I am satisfied that on the expert evidence given to the French public prosecutor, they held a manslaughter charge in this case.”

Choi, a highly respected consultant and the lead urology surgeon for renal cancer in the East Kent Hospitals Trust, had been hit by heartbreak when he lost his wife, Debbie, to breast cancer 12 years ago.

After his death in 2016, Choi’s partner Abbey described him as “such a lovely man who would help anyone”.

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