Friends and colleagues have paid tribute to a family killed when their aircraft crashed in the French Alps.

Renowned economist Dr Shimon Awerbuch, 60, his partner Maria Ribiero and his seven-year-old son Everett all died when his Piper PA34 Seneca lost control in a snow storm.

The twin-engine light aircraft slammed into the side of a mountain in the Grand Veymont area, killing all three instantly.

Dr Awerbuch's colleagues at the Sussex Energy Group, based at the University of Sussex in Falmer, Brighton, described him as a generous, enthusiastic and creative man.

Professor Gordon Mackerron, from the group, said: "He was part of a very close family. They were often part of university events.

"It is a great tragedy - they will be missed."

Neighbour Lou Taylor, 84, who lives in the same block of flats as the family in King's Road, Brighton, said: "It is so terrible that a whole family was wiped out in one go.

"They really were a very nice family.

"The last time I saw Everett he was holding a bunch of flowers which he was taking for his teacher last week. He was taking them to give to her for Valentine's Day before half-term.

"He was a lovely lad. I still can't believe they have all gone." The family had set off from Shoreham Airport at 10am on Saturday for a half-term holiday in Cannes, on the French Riviera, with Dr Awerbuch piloting the aircraft.

He contacted air traffic control at around 2pm to say he was in trouble. The aircraft disappeared from radar screens moments later.

Rescue helicopters were sent to try to locate it but struggled in the weather conditions and could not begin a proper search until later that evening.

The operation involving up to 100 men and at least five helicopters lasted through Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

A mountain rescue team who had set out on foot wearing snow shoes to cope with the snowfall of around 8ins eventually found the wreckage just before midday.

Dr Awerbuch was an American national and senior fellow at the University of Sussex.

He advised some of the biggest organisations and businesses in the world, including the World Bank and the United Nations.

Professor Mackerron said he had been due to give a presentation to the European Investment Bank in the next few weeks.

Dr Awerbuch had moved to Brighton around five years ago from Paris. He was a keen pilot and regularly flew the Piper PA34 Seneca plane, which he owned, to destinations around the world.

It had been modified to cope with long-distance flights, and friends told The Argus Dr Awerbuch was an experienced pilot.

Shoreham Airport manager John Haffenden said: "The plane certainly flew regularly from here to other airports both in the UK and abroad."

Dr Awerbuch had held posts at the University of Sussex since 2002 when he moved to Britain.

The family originally came from America and all held US passports.

There was initially some confusion that Miss Ribiero had been a university colleague of Dr Awerbuch.

The University of Sussex yesterday confirmed she was not but explained one of its fellows had a very similar name.

Retired detective Keith Savidge, a friend of Dr Awerbuch, said: "I first met Shimon when me and my wife were staying at a hotel in Sussex one weekend. We were at the next table.

"Shimon was singing along to himself and I said in jest, Don't give up the day job.' "He laughed and they came and joined us at our table.

"From that day we became very good friends and we flew with him to Alderney to buy a wedding present. He was a good pilot."

He added: "It has all come as a terrible shock so far but we are coping."