Climber saved after plunging 200ft on Ben Nevis

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The Independent Online

A mountaineer who fell more than 200ft as he neared the summit of Ben Nevis was in hospital last night with only cuts and bruises.

John Hunston, 44, was left dangling for hours up the north face of the mountain in the Scottish Highlands after a screw he had used to fasten his ropes to an ice wall came loose.

Mr Hunston, from Carlisle, was saved when another ice screw held fast as he fell down the mountainside. He ate his sandwiches and nut bars to keep his strength up while he waited for help.

His climbing companion, Ian Armstrong, 32, also from Carlisle, called the police for help on his mobile telephone.

A helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth was unable to reach the men on Saturday evening because of bad weather and members of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue team were sent to find Mr Hunston on Britain's highest mountain.

He was taken down on a stretcher to a hut where members of the Scottish Mountaineering Club were staying. They then helped to take him to the foot of the mountain early yesterday morning.

At the end of the 11-hour rescue operation, Mr Hunston was taken to Belford Hospital in Fort William where his condition was described last night as "satisfactory".

Roger Wild, of the Lochaber Mountain Rescue team, said: "One of the problems was actually finding the climbers, so there was a lot of whistle-blowing and shouting before we could locate them.

"Both men were well equipped and the climb was well within their capabilities, but the accident could have happened to anybody. One of Mr Hunston's ice screws came out and as a result he fell back down to the last ice screw he had put into the face of the mountain.

"They were both very lucky, but the system they were using was very safe and that helped to make the rescue successful."

Mr Wild added: "It was a real team effort and a good example of the way mountaineers help each other."

Only climbers with considerable mountaineering experience can climb the north face of Ben Nevis, which is 4,406 feet high. It is viewed as an ideal area to practise for Himalayan expeditions.