By Henry Samuel
A French hiker on Tuesday recounted how he met a “panic-stricken” British cyclist rushing and the pair's fear of becoming targets themselves when they returned to the forest car park where four were shot dead.
Philippe D, 41, was walking up the forest road of Combe-d’Ire near the village of Chevaline with two female friends when the unnamed British RAF veteran came careering down the path.
“This panic-stricken man was coming back down the road,” the Frenchman, whose surname has been withheld for legal reasons, told Le Parisien newspaper. “He explained with difficulty in bad French that he had seen a drama a bit higher up.”
“He wanted to phone the emergency services. I didn’t understand whether he had a mobile or couldn’t get a signal in that place.”
The Frenchman then followed the Briton to the car park where four people, three and French cyclist Sylvain Mollier, 45, had been gunned down moments earlier.
“I understood straight away. I approached the car. I touched nothing but could see there was nothing to be done [for the victims]. There was no sign of life,” he said.
He then saw 7-year old Zainab al-Hilli [lying in the recovery position] yards from the car, where the Briton had placed her.
A prosecutor had praised the Briton's "nerves of steel" for tending to the girl, who is recovering in a hospital in Grenoble.
“She didn’t respond to our calls. I clapped my hands but she didn’t react," Philippe is cited as saying. "I even said a few words in English as I saw the car was registered in Great Britain. But nothing happened. For me, she was dead,” he said.
A few seconds later, he went down the slope a few yards to phone the emergency services. The prosecutor said they received the first call at 3:48 p.m.
He said the group suddenly became worried. “We didn’t know if we were alone or not, if we were in danger or not, if those who did that were still there or not. We thought we were taking risks,” he said.
‘I understood straight away. I approached the car. I touched nothing but could see there was nothing to be done [for the victims]. There was no sign of life,’ he said.
“In the space of a few minutes, it could have perhaps been us there instead of the murdered cyclist,” said Philippe. He kept asking “why” he was “at that place on that day ... I can’t stop thinking about it.”
He added: “There was no sound. It was like in a film. One of those TV series where everything starts with a murder. Except this time we were the actors and we couldn’t change channels with a remote control.”
They were reassured once the police and medics arrived and the hikers and Briton were taken to the gendarmerie for questioning.
Amid reports that the Briton had seen a dark green four-wheel drive vehicle and a motorbike coming down the hill shortly before he arrived on the scene, the French witness said he had “heard nothing and passed nobody—not a car or a motorbike”.
The three hikers returned to the crime scene on Sunday to help police reconstruct the precise timing of the shooting and their arrival. The Briton was not with them.