A HIKER fell 350 feet to his death on a holiday in the Austrian Alps with his best friend, an inquest heard.

Richard Hartley, who was originally from Bolton but lived in Germany, had organised the trip for his friend Steven Tooze’s 50th birthday, Bolton Coroner’s Court was told.

But freak weather in the Austrian region of Zillertal made the path the men were walking treacherous and Mr Hartley slipped and fell 350 feet to his death.

The inquest heard that 41-year-old Mr Hartley, a former pupil of Egerton County Primary School and Turton School, was a keen sportsman who kept himself fit and healthy.

Mr Tooze, who lives in London, was best man at Mr Hartley’s wedding in 2005 to his wife, Fiona.

The friends decided to visit Austria in June while Mrs Hartley was visiting her parents in Hong Kong with the couple’s two young children.

Mr Tooze said conditions were not a concern when they set out to walk on Friday, June 28, and fellow walkers did not anticipate any problems.

But when freak snowy conditions forced the pair to head back Mr Hartley, who was walking ahead of his friend, appeared to fall on to his elbow or knee and then slid down the mountain.

Mr Tooze managed to summon help by phoning his wife in England who contacted the Austrian emergency services.

Mr Tooze was rescued by helicopter but Mr Hartley was found dead by the rescue services.

A post mortem examination revealed he had suffered multiple injuries.

Area coroner Mr Alan Walsh said Mr Hartley had died as a result of an accident.