Following a large, complicated and risky rescue on Ben Nevis last night the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team have taken the rare step of criticising the casualties involved, who they say were inexperienced and ill equipped, and who made a series of poor decisions counter to rescuers' advice. Traditionally MRTs are reluctant to condemn the people they rescue. However 'a line was probably crossed last night which made the risks a little less palatable for both the Team and the RAF' they say. But despite this they still defend the system of free, voluntary rescue.
In some very difficult weather and avalanche conditions members of the UK's busiest Mountain Rescue Team were out to assist a party of four in difficulties in Coire Eoghainn on the south side of the mountain. The group had reportedly gone to climb Ben Nevis for charity.
A post this morning on the team's Facebook page explains what happened:
'Everyone involved last night put in a major effort in horrendous conditions to assist casualties who did not make our job any easier. Conditions made navigation very difficult and communications were very poor. We had located the casualties using a phone app. We knew that one had fallen but the others could hear his shouts so we knew once we had located the others we would be able to get to the one who had fallen.'
'One decided to try and walk out and by a stroke of luck was found wandering over the summit plateau by a mountain guide who we asked to walk the guy off. In the meantime the two guys at the point we had located with the phone app decided to move down towards their mate who was still shouting. We told them again to stay where they were but they obviously knew better and carried on which resulted in both of them falling down over the crags at the head of Coire Eoghainn. They both fell 200 metres plus past their mate who was stuck on some steep nasty ground. Luckily they both escaped with minor injuries - probably due to the amount of snow cushioning their landings over the steep ground.'
'As we could not find the two guys at the location we thought they were at, we spent a lot of time trying to locate exactly where they were. The only clue was loud shouting from the casualty below. The Team then set up multiple abseils to try and locate the casualties over very difficult ground and iffy anchors. Lots of gear abandoned on the abseils plus 300 metres of rope trashed.'
'A team who had been dropped at base of the Coire had by this time climbed up and located the two guys who had fallen furthest. They were then walked down to a location where Rescue 137 could pick them up. Two of the guys climbed up to the more seriously injured casualty and packaged him up while the team from above came down. Multiple lowers later they managed to get the guy down the side of the Waterslide to the roadside where he was taken to the Belford Hospital.'
'Rescue 137 also need a special mention, as conditions made flying to pick up the two casualties from the lip of the Coire very much at the limit. They reluctantly decided after this to return to their base. We are extremely grateful for the assistance we received as without them we would still be out there and the outcome may not have been same. Hopefully this is not their last visit to Lochaber before the Sea kings are mothballed on the 1st of April. Bristows have a hard act to follow.'
'Everyone in the Team are volunteers and the only perk they got from this rescue was breakfast provided by Chris at 4 o'clock this morning before they made their way back to work. Everyone on the hill and flying were putting their lives on the line for frankly some very inexperienced hill walkers who were not equipped for a winter mountaineering expedition.'
'We do not normally criticise casualties as 99.9% of the rescues we do are for well well equipped, experienced walkers and climbers who have had an unfortunate incident outside their control. We are all mountaineers ourselves and what we do is for our own community who benefit hugely from the money generated by outdoor sports in Lochaber. However, a line was probably crossed last night which made the risks a little less palatable for both the Team and the RAF.'
But despite their strong stance, the team are still keen to defend the system of free rescue by voluntary teams.
'In Scotland, we have a world class mountain rescue service which is on par (if not better) than some of the professional rescue services elsewhere in the world, delivered at a minimal cost to the tax payer - which provides a service for one of the largest participant sports in the UK. Many of the remote communities mountain rescue teams operate out of in Scotland depend on the spend of mountain sports to survive and we do not want to take money away from them through some dubious insurance scheme.'
'We are seeing major challenges to mountain rescue, particularly in the Highlands, with the introduction of a single police force and the privatisation of the search and rescue helicopter service which is making our role more complicated than it need be. We are also concerned about potential dilution of funds which were originally being ear marked for mountain rescue being diverted to other areas which are not technically mountain rescue - albeit as important. With the Police having to make budget savings there is a risk that some of the roles they have traditionally covered now being farmed out to mountain rescue teams, particularly in the Lowland setting which is putting the allocation for the teams that operate in the remote mountainous regions at risk.'
'Well done Lochaber you were brilliant last night.'