A climber thought to have fallen to his death on Ben Nevis after the rope holding him was cut by the crew of a rescue helicopter has been named.

Mark Phillips, 51, from Spean Bridge, became the 11th climber to die in the Scottish mountains this year when he fell more than 160ft in the Raeburn's Buttress area on the north face of Britain's highest mountain. His fall was broken by the safety rope to which he was attached, and he was left lying on a steep slope.

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A search-and-rescue helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth attended the incident at 12.30pm and it is understood that in the attempt to get him on board the aircraft, the safety rope was severed before he had been secured. As a result, Mark, who was an Environmental Health Officer with Highland Council, fell hundreds of feet, sustaining fatal injuries.

It is understood the aircraft was immediately grounded at the location because of the accident, while another was deployed from HMS Gannet in Prestwick to recover the man's body.

In a statement, Mark’s wife Caroline said: "On 25th February my beloved husband, Mark, was enjoying the superb conditions the Scottish Highlands were affording. He had spent the previous few days climbing and walking in the hills with friends. Tragically that day he sustained fatal injuries following an incident on Ben Nevis.

"Mark and I together with our son, Ruaridh, had moved to the Highlands about 12 years ago so as to live amongst the hills and community we had got to love.

"Mark was a loving father and husband and will be sorely missed by us and his many friends and work colleagues. Ruaridh and I thank them all for their support.

"I have noted certain speculation in the press surrounding Mark's death. I have entire confidence in the police and the process and I do not want to indulge such speculation."

Neil Gillies, director of the council department, said: "Mark covered the full range of environmental health activities including food safety. He was a popular, helpful and highly valued member of our team in Lochaber and always went about his business in an efficient and professional manner. He will be sorely missed."

Lochaber provost Allan Henderson said: "I am extremely saddened to hear about the passing of our valued colleague. As councillors, we have always found Mark to be very courteous and helpful and a very valued member of the Highland Council staff. His death will be sadly mourned by his colleagues as well as his family."

Police are investigating the death of Mr Phillips and a report will be sent to the procurator fiscal.

A spokesman for the UK Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre referred all inquiries to Northern Constabulary. The force had already confirmed that the man, who has not been identified, died during the rescue operation, but a spokesman refused to be drawn on the circumstances.

He said: "We cannot make any comment on that. It is part of a live police inquiry and we will have to make a report to the procurator-fiscal."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "We can confirm two military search-and-rescue helicopters were sent to assist in an operation to rescue a fallen climber on Ben Nevis, who sadly died.

"An investigation by Northern Constabulary is under way. It would be inappropriate for the MoD to comment further at this stage."

Two people have died on Ben Nevis so far this year. A further four have been killed in Glencoe and another five in the Cairngorms.