THE Beaminster Tunnel landslide victims died almost immediately when they were hit by a landslide, a coroner has ruled.

Inquests in to the deaths of Rosemary Snell, aged 67 from Misterton and 72-year-old Michael Rolfe from Fivehead, Somerset, were opened yesterday.

The coroner stated that Mrs Snell’s death would have been very rapid, whilst Mr Rolfe’s death would have been instantaneous.

The couple lay undiscovered for ten days after their car was crushed under hundreds of tonnes of mud, brick and debris at the opening of the Beaminster Tunnel on July 7.

At yesterday’s inquests, the coroner heard evidence that the death of Rosemary Snell was caused by chest compression when she was trapped in the landslip.

Evidence from a pathologist was heard which suggested the death of Michael Rolfe was caused by a fracture to the cervical spine when he was trapped.

The elderly pair had been returning to Mrs Snell’s home after dining at The Bridge House Hotel in Beaminster, when tragedy struck on the fateful night.

Firefighters attended the landslip shortly afterwards and used thermal imaging equipment to check for signs of life in the mud.

But with no reports of anyone missing in the area, further checks were not made until Avon and Somerset Police called for assistance in tracing a missing couple after tracking their whereabouts to Beaminster.

After further investigation, the silver coloured Skoda Mrs Snell and Mr Rolfe had been travelling in was unearthed from the debris.

Tributes have poured in for Mr Rolfe, a retired surgeon and Mrs Snell, who was well-known in the village that she lived.

Dorset Police have referred the case to the Independent Police Comp-laints Commission following the recovery of their bodies.

In a tweet on Thursday, the IPCC said: “Dorset Police will be referring the Beaminster Tunnel landslip deaths.

“This will be assessed and a decision made about mode of investigation.”

The voluntary referral has followed public outcry that Mr Rolfe and Mrs Snell lay undiscovered for more than a week.

A full inquest in to the deaths is expected in due course.