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Four killed in Glencoe avalanche
Victoria Weldon and David Ross - Sunday Herald - 20th January 2013
Four climbers have died in the Scottish Highlands in the worst avalanche disaster that Glencoe has seen.
The climbers – two men and two women – were part of a party of six out climbing on Bidean Nam Bian when disaster struck early in the afternoon yesterday.
The tragedy is the largest loss of life in an avalanche in Glencoe. Three climbers died in an avalanche in Glencoe in 2009.
Yesterday's deaths came as the climbing party was descending near Church Door Buttress and had just left the ridge when the whole slope collapsed.
One man managed to jump clear, but the other five were swept down the 3773ft mountain.
The climber who escaped followed them down and found a woman on the surface with a bad head injury. He then carried on down the slope until he got a mobile-phone signal and raised the alarm at about 1.30pm.
A large-scale rescue operation was then launched, with mountain rescue teams from Glencoe and Lochaber quickly deployed along with police search and rescue dogs and a rescue helicopter from Prestwick.
The woman with head injuries was taken to Belford Hospital in Fort William where she remains in a "very serious condition".
Northern Constabulary confirmed the discovery of the remaining climbers at around 6pm.
Climber Iain Wilson, 30, of Shawlands, Glasgow, was on the hill at the time of the incident and witnessed some of the rescue operation.
He said: "I was on the summit of Stob Coire Nan Lochan and I could hear the helicopter flying around but I couldn't see it at first. The visibility was terrible.
"I caught sight of it for short periods now and again and saw it landing and dropping off members of the mountain rescue teams.
"Then I saw them carrying somebody down in a stretcher. It must have been horrendous for the helicopter crew flying – it couldn't have been easy for them given the poor visibility.
"When I left and went back to the car park it was full of mountain rescue teams."
Warnings issued by the Scottish Avalanche Information Service said the avalanche risk in Glencoe yesterday was "considerable".
The conditions warning issued by the service said that, while there did not appear to be much snow on the hills, there could still be areas of windslab – an unstable and dangerous crust of snow created by the wind.
Wilson added: "I had concerns. The avalanche forecast said there was a considerable risk ... but sometimes you just have to go and see for yourself what the conditions are. It's a very easy to make a mistake, unfortunately.
"It's never good to hear about something like this, but – to be honest – there's an acceptance among climbers that this can happen.
"We go into the hills to escape the niceties and the safety of everyday life, to seek out adventure, and sometimes that adventure can become very dangerous."
Glencoe guide Steven Fallon – who was also on the hills yesterday – added: "We'd been out with a group immediately south of Bidean and one of our guides is a member of Lochaber Mountain Rescue so he got the call coming through to say what had happened.
"It's always bad news to hear about something like this happening, especially when it was particularly close to where we were."
Mark Diggins, head of the Scottish Avalanche Information Service, said the incident was a "tragedy" but warned that avalanches are not unusual in Scotland.
He said: "It could have looked like a beautiful day at Glencoe. These guys could have been out enjoying themselves and it doesn't look like there are any problems then this happens.
"This is not unusual in Scotland, it's something we have to deal with. We deal with the weather and we deal with avalanches. It's not an unusual situation.
"People want to go into the hills and what we do is try and give people information so that they can go to certain places or avoid certain areas which might be hazardous."
A spokesman for Northern Constabulary said the force was making efforts to trace the climbers' families. David Gibson, the chief officer and company secretary of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCoS), added: "The advice we would give to people is to check the weather and avalanche forecasts before setting off, and to assess the risks.
"The thoughts of the MCoS are with all of those involved and the rescue services up there doing the job they do."
We go into the hills to escape the niceties and seek out adventure, and sometimes that adventure can become very dangerous
Four climbers killed in Highlands avalanche horror
Stephen Houston and Kenny Angove - Scottish Sun - 20th January 2013
Six doomed climbers were buried in an icy tomb under hundreds of tonnes of snow packed more than a metre deep, it was revealed last night.
A frantic rescue operation was sparked when a male survivor miraculously rolled free and raised the alarm after the avalanche swept 500 feet down a mountain.
Emergency crews using specialist sniffer dogs and metal poles discovered the bodies of two women and two men.
Late last night, another woman dug from the snow was still fighting for life in hospital after tragedy struck at around 2pm in Glencoe, Inverness-shire.
John Grieve, leader of the Glencoe mountain rescue team, said metal sticks had to be driven deep into the snow to find the tragic group on 3,773ft Bidean nam Bian — which is popular with climbers.
He said: “I’m not sure how deeply buried they were but using that technique would suggest it was more than a metre.”
The woman who survived was airlifted to the Belford Hospital in nearby Fort William, suffering serious head injuries.
The group was in a notorious spot on the peak known as Central Valley, near the Church Door Buttress, when the snow gave way. It’s thought they had been descending the mountain when a massive section of hard-packed snow and rubble broke off from a ridge and plunged 500 feet into a narrow gully.
The man who escaped the fearsome deluge managed to call police from his mobile to alert emergency services.
Stunned eyewitness Martin Shields, 46, who was on the other side of the peak when the wall of snow hit, said: “It was terrible — it’s such a tragedy.”
Londoner Martin added: “We heard the chopper coming over and when we got down the rescue service were there and they had stretchers out.
“I don’t know an awful lot about avalanches but if they were on the south side of the mountain, maybe the sun was on the snow and made it break up because it can be quite sensitive.”
A Sea King helicopter from RAF Kinloss and the Lochaber Mountain Rescue team joined the dramatic operation — as the windchill on the peak plummeted to a bitter -24°C (-11°F).
Last night it emerged the risk of avalanche on the peak was “considerable” at the time of the tragedy — despite there being little snowfall over the previous days.
Mark Diggins, co-ordinator of the Scottish Avalanche Information Service, said: “An avalanche is possible to be triggered by a single person.
“At the moment it doesn’t look like there’s much snow, it is very localised.”
Alex Salmond last night branded the death toll — one of the country’s worst mountain tragedies — “appalling”. The First Minister added: “Our immediate thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who have been lost.
“To lose four people from a party of six people is truly devastating.
“The Scottish Government will provide any support that we can and I would like to thank the police and mountain rescue team for their efforts in these difficult circumstances.”
Climbing experts also called for the public to check forecasts before heading on to snow-covered ranges.
Mountaineering Council of Scotland chief officer David Gibson said: “This was a significant tragedy.
“Our thoughts are with all those involved and the rescue services up there doing the job they do. It’s always difficult in these circumstances, but the advice we would give to people is to check the weather and avalanche forecasts before setting off, and to assess the risks.”
Stunned staff at the nearby Glencoe Mountain Resort were shocked by the tragedy.
Worker Margaret Gordon said: “The windchill here is -24°C and it has been snowing all day and that is set to continue. The conditions were terrific for skiers and all our tows were open. I believe this is the first avalanche of the year here.
“It is dreadful that people were caught in it and our thoughts are with them.”
A spokesman for Northern Constabulary confirmed that all the climbers had been found.
He said: “The party of six, three men and three women, had been climbing on Bidean nam Bian.
“One male member of the party raised the alarm and stayed to assist the searchers at the scene.”
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