It sounds like the kind of escape only screwball cartoon characters enjoy, but a climber who plummeted more than 1,000 feet down a mountain yesterday was found standing up, reading a map and with only a couple of bruises as souvenirs for his near-death adventure.
Friends feared the worst when they saw the 35-year-old lose his footing and fall at the summit of Sgurr Choinnich Mor, a peak forming part of the Grey Corries range five miles east of Ben Nevis in Scotland. And his rescuers admitted later that they flew to the scene expecting, in that emergency services euphemism, a "worst case scenario".
Yet when the Royal Navy helicopter team scanned the craggy slopes at around 2.30pm, they found the man shaking in fear but with physical wounds described only as "superficial". He was reportedly trying to work out his location on a map as they picked him out from the sky.
The rescue on the eastern slope of the mountain came almost moments after a group of 24 climbers had celebrated reaching the 3,589ft summit.
The faller was said to have experienced a sensation "like flying" before landing on a nook in the cliff almost a third of the way down. Lieutenant Tim Barker, part of the rescue crew, said: "We began to hover-taxi down the slope and spotted a man at the bottom, standing up. We honestly thought it couldn't be him, as he was on his feet, reading a map. Above him was a series of three high craggy outcrops. It seemed impossible."
He added: "So we retraced our path back up the mountain and, sure enough, there were bits of his kit in a vertical line all the way up where he had obviously lost them during the fall. It was quite incredible. He must have literally glanced off the outcrops as he fell, almost flying."
By chance, the Sea King rescue helicopter from HMS Gannet in Prestwick was already in the sky on a training exercise when the alarm was raised. As the climber was winched to safety and flown to the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, he was conscious and recounting the details of his fall. A paramedic at the scene said he was "shaking from extreme emotional shock and the sheer relief at still being alive". He was treated overnight for a chest injury and cuts.
Lieutenant Barker added: "He is lucky to be alive. It's hard to believe that someone could have fallen that distance on that terrain and been able to stand up at the end of it, let alone chat to us in the helicopter on the way to the hospital. It's really an amazing result – I have to say, when we got the call and realised the details of where he'd fallen, we did expect to arrive on scene to find the worst-case scenario."
Sgurr Choinnich Mor is a popular challenge for amateur climbers due to the breathtaking views of the snow-capped Aonach mountain range in the distance from the top. Those who have reached the summit have, however, noted the danger of narrow ridges and warn of its steep, slanting mountain face. A man who lost his footing two years ago and fell died at a spot close by.Reuse content