The story behind The Crown: Prince Charles is ‘feet from death’ as avalanche kills close friend in Swiss Alps

Tragedy strikes for a second time in season 4 of Netflix’s royal drama as a royal skiing trip ends in the death of Prince Charles’ close friend, Major Hugh Lindsay. What really happened?

By Rhys Lewis Published: 24 November 2020 - 7.01pm
Patrice Picot/Getty

Season 4 of Netflix’s royal drama The Crown begins and ends in tragedy. In the opening episode, the family’s ‘Uncle Dickie’, Lord Louis Mountbatten, is killed when a bomb is detonated by IRA terrorists on his fishing boat off the coast of County Sligo, Ireland.

Less well-remembered is the tragedy of the penultimate episode – the death of Major Hugh Lindsay, a former equerry to the Queen and a close friend to Prince Charles, in an avalanche in the Swiss alps which almost cost the Prince and another member of the royal party their lives.

Major Hugh Lindsay and the Queen Getty
Major Hugh Lindsay was the Queen's equerry between 1983 and 1986

On March 10, 1988, the Prince, Major Lindsay and long-time friends Charles and Patti Palmer-Tomkinson had left the busy slopes above the Klosters resort to ski the steep, unmarked, off-piste Wang Run, a ‘black run’ suitable for only the most experienced skiers and considered one of the most dangerous ski runs in Europe.

The Wang Run had reopened for the first time that season that day, but a spell of warm weather had followed a period of heavy snowfall, and the Swiss Federal Avalanche Institute had warned of a danger of avalanches above 1600 metres in the area. The Wang is more than 2000 metres high.

The group, accompanied by a guide and Swiss security officers, were reported to be taking a shortcut across the face of the mountain to begin a third and final run at around 2.45pm when the avalanche struck. The Prince managed to ski to safety but Major Lindsay and Patti Palmer-Tomkinson were sent plunging 400 metres down the mountainside by the wall of snow and ice.

Using detection equipment, the guide, Bruno Sprecher, located Mrs Palmer-Tomkinson and, with the help of the Prince and other members of the party, dug her out of the snow with their bare hands. Sprecher was reported to have given Mrs Palmer-Tomkinson mouth-to-mouth resuscitation before she was airlifted to hospital in nearby Davos, suffering from two broken legs and a collapsed lung.

The group also succeeded in digging Major Lindsay, aged 34, out of the snow but he had sadly died.

The Prince was reported to be “very distressed” and shocked but was able to walk to the helicopter which airlifted him off the mountain. 

The royal party arrive back at RAF Northolt two days after the tragedy Getty
The royal party arrive back at RAF Northolt two days after the tragedy

A police official at the time told The Times that Prince Charles must have been “quite close to the avalanche”.

The same newspaper quoted the helicopter pilot who attended the emergency as saying that the heir to the throne was “within feet of death when the avalanche struck”.

Much of the immediate coverage also questioned the party’s choice of ski run.

Experts quoted in The Daily Telegraph branded their actions “idiotic and dangerous”, while The Times said a Swiss inquiry would be set up to establish what the group was doing on such a treacherous part of the mountain.

Josh O'Connor, who plays Prince Charles in The Crown Netflix
Josh O'Connor, who plays Prince Charles in The Crown

The royal party, which also included Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York, returned to the UK the next day, flying into RAF Northolt with Major Lindsay’s body.

Major Lindsay had served as an equerry to the Queen from 1983-86 before returning to his Army duties. He had married the previous summer – Prince Charles and Princess Diana attended his wedding – and at the time of his death his wife Sarah was seven months pregnant. She later gave birth to a girl, Alice.

His funeral took place at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, and was attended by the Queen, the Prince and Princess of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of York.

Season 4 of The Crown is now available to watch on Netflix.

Watch The Crown seasons 1-3 on Netflix.

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