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Merson's family escape snow peril.

Aston Villa and England star Paul Merson has spoken of his relief at being reunited with his family after a week fearing for their safety as they were caught up in the Alps avalanche disaster.

Merson's wife Lorraine and their three children - Ben, Charlie and Sam - were cut off for seven days and unable to return home after a skiing holiday in Austria.

The midfielder admitted he was scared to death as reports of the increasing death toll - now above 30 - filtered back to England.

But yesterday there was joy for Merson as his family escaped by helicopter from the danger area in Galtur before returning to England.

The former Arsenal and Middlesbrough player, who has battled back from alcohol and drugs addiction, said: "You look at those sort of things happening on television and you don't really pay that much attention to them.

"But then, when you've got your own family right in the middle of it, it really scares you to death.

"Every route out of the resort was closed. All the roads and tunnels were blocked. The kids were fine - but my wife was very worried because she knew just how serious the situation was.

"The gaffer, John Gregory, gave me a couple of days off, and I was ringing Lorraine all the time to make sure she and the kids were safe. It was a very worrying time.

"But thankfully, everything is now OK from their point of view because they managed to get a helicopter out."

Meanwhile, the funeral took place yesterday of Miss Catherine Ovington, the 26-year-old Midland woman who was killed in an avalanche in the Alps two weeks ago.

Miss Ovington, of Brockhampton, near Cheltenham, was killed while skiing at Val D'Isere, where she was spending the winter with her boyfriend Mr Anthony Gumberley, aged 27.

At her funeral at the parish church in Sevenhampton, near Cheltenham, her former drama teacher at Cheltenham College, Mr Chris Haslem, told more than 250 mourners that she was a "diamond that never ceased to twinkle".

Miss Ovington was snowboarding off piste when she was caught in an avalanche and buried in more than three feet of snow.
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Title Annotation:National
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 27, 1999
Words:362
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