Three climbers have died after being caught up in an avalanche on the UK’s highest mountain, following warnings of a high avalanche risk. The incident, which injured another person, occurred at 11.50 am in gully number five located on the mountain’s north-eastern aspect.
Tuesday’s avalanche hazard was high, according to the Scottish Avalanche Information Service. The red alert indicates that “natural and human triggered avalanches will occur. In some cases, numerous large, often very large sized natural avalanches can be expected.”
The Coastguard and an air ambulance were scrambled to Ben Nevis following reports of the slide at around 11.50am. Mountain rescue volunteers from Lochaber and Glencoe were being assisted by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Scottish Ambulance Service. An air ambulance, three ambulances, and a trauma team were also sent to the scene.
The lone survivor of the avalanche has described how he miraculously regained consciousness with just one arm and his head above the snow.
“We weren’t very high up and all of a sudden, we heard a noise,” he told Swiss newspaper Le Nouvelliste. “We turned back and, two seconds later, we were swept away by heavy compact snow. I lost consciousness and when I woke up only my head and one arm stuck out the snow. I am seriously injured. Both my legs, my back, one shoulder, and one arm are affected but I’ll get through it.”
At 6 pm the previous (Monday) evening, the Scottish Avalanche Information Service released a hazardous forecast for the north-eastern aspect of Ben Nevis, classing the avalanche risk as “high”. The warning said that “freezing” temperatures, heavy snowfall and strong winds would result in “high instability” on the mountain. Donald Paterson, deputy team leader of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, said the four men – believed to be Swiss nationals – had been hit by a “massive, massive” avalanche that fell from 4,000-feet at the top and fell 1500-feet on top of them.
“One of the climbers died pretty instantaneously, the other had CPR for half an hour but sadly did not respond and the other died while being taken down the mountain.
“The fourth – they were all young men – was in a serious condition and stretchered halfway down the mountain to a helicopter that took him to the hospital in Glasgow. We did all we possibly good – we had every available person we could get hold of. There were four stretcher parties. We carried the bodies all the way down. It is a terrible tragedy. They just got wiped out by the avalanche. It was brutal conditions.” said Donald Paterson.
A horrified eyewitness said he saw “huge powder clouds” sweeping down the mountain, according to The Sun. Writing on the UK Climbing Forum, he said: “Was outside the CIC (Charles Inglis Clark Memorial) hut when the avalanche came down number 5 gully.
“Huge powder clouds. Guys at the CIC hut who had attempted a climb earlier, and had aborted because of the conditions weren’t aware of anyone else out climbing today on the Ben.”
And he told how other climbers earlier abandoned an attempt to scale the 4,413ft Scottish peak as the weather closed in. A local resident who lives at the foot of Ben Nevis said:
“Nobody should have been on Ben Nevis today and anyone who was has paid the ultimate price.”
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Britain and stands at 4,413-feet above sea level. The peak, near Fort William in the Highlands, is a popular destination for climbers, attracting 125,000 each year. There are five large gullies on the mountain but number five tends to be avoided by climbers as it is avalanche-prone.
Tuesday’s tragedy is the latest in a string of climbing accidents already this winter on the mountain. On New Year’s Day, a 21-year-old German student at Bristol University died after she fell from a ridge she had been climbing with three other people. And in December, Patrick Boothroyd, 21, from West Yorkshire died in a fall.