A 25-YEAR-OLD man found dead in deep snow had been returning home from a night out with friends.

Dressed in only a shirt, light jacket, trousers and shoes, Gary Windle was found by a farmer in Shay Lane, Briercliffe, buried under deep snow. He was around 700 metres from his home.

Mr Windle had taken a taxi from a friend’s house in Colne back to his home in Briercliffe at 4.45am on Saturday.

The taxi could only get within a mile of his house and once the vehicle got to Haggate, Mr Windle decided to walk the final mile but collapsed in blizzard conditions.

The snow in the area was so bad that police officers had to crawl and roll across six foot drifts to reach Mr Windle’s body, which was found at 1.30pm on Saturday.

The air ambulance was called to transfer him to Royal Blackburn Hospital as a land ambulance could not reach the area.

The tragic accident came on a weekend of some of the heaviest snow in East Lancashire for decades.

Snow ploughs and gritters near both Darwen and Blacko had to be rescued after becoming stuck on Saturday morning.

A number of roads were also closed because of several feet of drifting snow, although some areas escaped with just a dusting of snow.

Police said Mr Windle had gone out with his brother Lee at around 4pm on Friday and they had driven to a friend’s in Worsthorne and got changed before going to Nelson Golf Club, then to Burnley town centre and finally back to a friends in Colne.

Chief Inspector Derry Crorken, from Burnley Police, said: “There had been quite unprecedented levels of drifting snow in the area this weekend which made conditions very bad. When Gary and his brother left the house the roads were passable but when he returned they were not.

“We spoke to a paramedic who lives locally and he said there had been blizzard conditions most of the night, although it was only lightly snowing when Gary tried to walk home.

“He had been wearing a jacket, shirt, trousers and shoes, what you would wear for a night out. He didn’t have the clothes to keep him protected in these conditions, but when he had left the house the conditions hadn’t been as bad.”

Chief Insp Crorken said police had struggled to reach the spot where Mr Windle, who was a customer service assistant at Tesco in Burnley, was found on Saturday afternoon.

He said: “We couldn’t get to the area he was found in our 4x4s on Saturday. We had to use a local farmer with officers on the back of a truck, before that got stuck as well. Officers had to crawl and roll the last part over snow. Had they stood up they would have been standing in six foot of snow.

“We had to call the air ambulance who did a really, really good job in very difficult and blustery conditions.

“We will now be passing a file on to the coroner. It was a very, very tragic accident.”

Andrew Peters, deputy store manager at Tesco’s Burnley store, said: “We were very saddened to learn of this news. Gary was a really popular friend and colleague, who got on well with everyone at the store. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”

Neighbours of the family said they were shocked and saddened at the news.

Farmer John Stewart at Monk Hall Farm said: “You never think things like that will turn out to be someone you know. He and his family have been next door a few years.

“He was a nice lad, a very pleasant young man to speak to, both him and his brother. They're a nice family.

“He would go out from time to time with his pals, or with his brother just enjoying life like an ordinary young man.”

Friends also paid tribute to Gary on Facebook.

One said: “Very sad news. Such a nice, polite lad. Remember him well from being in my brother’s class at school and living near us and although not someone we knocked about with recently, he was someone you always saw knocking about. Always made the effort to speak to you. A real shame. Thoughts to his family, in particular his brother Lee.”

Daniel Burns said: “Used to be one of my best mates in primary school. A sad day, a great shame to lose such a top lad.”

Another comment said: “My heart goes out to his family, terrible news.”

Charlotte Dilworth, in Todmorden Road, Briercliffe, said: “We were shocked to hear that someone had died. It's such sad news.

“You don't expect this at this time of year. We were snowed in on Friday until one of the farmers came and cleared this part of the road. We really needed it because our baby was sick and NHS Direct were sending an ambulance.

“We had no idea if they would get through, but they did. She only had a stomach bug but it was frightening to be cut off.”

Graham Dalley, from the Rossendale and Pendle Mountain Rescue Team, said: “In all of our patch which goes from the M62 over to Earby, the Briercliffe area was the worst affected.

“It had been very badly hit by snow drifts. Because of the drifts you could be going down a road and then suddenly find four foot of snow in front of you.

“It was also bitterly cold in this area on both Friday night and Saturday night.”

Lancashire Telegraph health expert Dr Tom Smith said the cold would have led to Mr Windle becoming hypothermic.

He said: “With the wind chill the temperatures in open areas can be -10C and if you are not dressed with thermal clothing and a proper hat, gloves and boots, the body temperature will drop quickly. Once the body temperature drops from 37C to 32C or 33C it is very difficult to survive.”