'I'm looking forward to a pint of Guinness'

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THE GRANDMOTHER rescued after spending two nights in the Cairngorm mountains in temperatures as low as -27C told yesterday how she ate snow to survive her 40-hour ordeal. Jacqueline Greaves, 53, said it helped her to stay conscious after she began hallucinating when her food and water ran out and winds gusting up to 75 mph 'ripped to shreds' her survival bag.

The secretary at Lowton West Primary School, Greater Manchester, was found yesterday morning by Solo, a mountain dog, and flown to Raigmore hospital, Inverness. Doctors who treated her for slight frostbite to her fingers said she was 'astonishingly lucky' to be alive.

She said later that when she saw her rescuers she 'really was on the brink of collapse. I just shouted 'Help me, thank God.' I just burst into tears and thought, 'It's over'.'

Mrs Greaves said she became separated from her companions when all three fell up to 200ft through a cornice - a snow overhang - on the 3,500ft Derry Cairngorm mountain, north of Braemar, on Sunday afternoon. 'The ground just gave way and that was that,' she said.

She landed in a gully over a sheer drop. As Bruce Nutter, 49, and David Cawley, 29, teachers at the same school, made it back to Braemar to raise the alarm, she put on all the clothing she had and sheltered among boulders for the night.

Mrs Greaves told the Sun: 'I am the luckiest woman alive.' She stopped herself with her ice axe as she plunged down the gully, but lost the axe. 'I swore at the mountain and vowed. 'You won't get me.' I was determined not to give in,' she said.

She spent 16 hours sitting on a 12in-wide seat in the snow knowing it could give way at any time, but after three hours risked falling to get her emergency bivouac bag out of her pack and climb into it. 'When it got dark and I realised I was really on my own, I was petrified. I couldn't shut my eyes in case I leaned over and rolled down the cliff. I stayed like that all night, talking to myself about stupid things. I just kept thinking this is it. My life kept flashing past.'

She had heard RAF helicopters and rescuers' shouts but she could not attract their attention. 'I kept shouting and whistling but it was no good.' Next morning she tried to climb down, facing the cliff and kicking her feet into the snow. 'With every step I thought, 'Oh my God, this could be me,' ' she said. It took her 90 minutes to reach the bottom, and then she set out to walk nine miles to the nearest village but, as blizzards continued to rage, found herself wandering in circles.

That night she dug a snow hole, but was so weak she could not get into her sleeping bag, and held it over her. 'I knew I was in desperate trouble and suddenly I began hallucinating . . . I knew I was seriously ill and struggling. I had gone partially blind. My eyes were smarting and I knew I must be close to death.'

Yesterday morning the dog found her walking, hungry and disorientated, near the Luig Beg burn, about two miles from where the party fell. Corporal Alan Sylvester, heading the seven-man rescue team, said: 'The first thing she said was: 'I'm looking forward to a pint of Guinness.' We gave her Ribena.'

Doctors praised her resilience. Mark Janssens, an accident surgeon at Raigmore hospital, said: 'Women survive longer than men in freezing conditions because they have a higher percentage of body fat but people are usually dead after spending 24 hours stranded in temperatures lower than -20C.'

Rescuers said that her survival demonstrated the 'crucial importance' of good mountain equipment and training.

Mrs Greaves, who is expected to make a full recovery, accepted offers from two tabloid newspapers totalling pounds 40,000 for her story. The rescue operation is said to have cost pounds 50,000.

Her husband, Roy, 52, said last night: 'I never gave up hope. I knew today was the day of reckoning. I am very relieved.'

He was sure his wife would not stop climbing. 'She loved it, and I'm sure she will want to carry on. I wouldn't stop her - but I hope she won't go in weather like this again.'

Forecast, page 2

Staying alive, page 18

(Photograph omitted)