Guide defends decision to ignore avalanche alert

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A mountain guide whose decision to ignore a warning of a "considerable hazard" resulted in the death of four scout leaders in one of Scotland's worst avalanche tragedies, defended his actions yesterday.

A mountain guide whose decision to ignore a warning of a "considerable hazard" resulted in the death of four scout leaders in one of Scotland's worst avalanche tragedies, defended his actions yesterday.

Roger Wild, 47, one of the country's most experienced mountain guides, was in charge of a group of six people when they ventured on to the mountain.

At the opening of a fatal accident inquiry into the tragedy yesterday, Mr Wild said that on the day of the accident he did not have a "greater feeling of risk" than on any other day.

He told the hearing he had looked at the forecast the night before and although some areas were graded category three, indicating a considerable avalanche hazard, in other areas the snow was reportedto be generally well-bonded and stable.

Mr Wild said: "Regarding the hazard outlook for the day, it is normal practice to go on to the mountains when there is a category three or higher. It would not be unheard of to go out on a category five day and go to areas that weren't identified as very high risk."

But when the avalanche swept down 4,000ft-high Aonach Mor on 29 December, 1998, Mr Wild was entombed in snow for 16 hours with two other survivors of the party of six Venture Scouts from Kent, who were being led by him in a training exercise. At the time, Mr Wild was director of a mountaineering school based in Fort William.

The four who died were Emma Ray, 29, her boyfriend Paul Hopkins, 28, both from Wilmington, Kent, and Matthew Lewis, 28, and Ian Edwards, 30, both from Dartford, Kent.

Mr Wild told the inquiry, at Fort William Sheriff Court, that he had visited the area where the avalanche occurred half a dozen times previously, when the risk had been graded category three or four, to carry out similar training, and had not had any problems.

Mr Wild said that on this occasion he assessed the snow conditions on the slope. "The conclusion that I came to was there was no avalanche risk in that immediate area," he said.

Mr Wild told the hearing he started to instruct the group on how to use an ice axe. He said he slid about five or 10 metres and when he came to a stop he was aware of a thin layer of snow coming down and covering his boots. He said: "In a matter of moments this became a heavier force and I was pushed forward so I was lying face down on the snow. I immediately tried to stand up ... but I was unable to move."

Mr Wild and the two survivors, Sarah Finch, 27, and Steven Newton, 26, both from Dartford, were rescued by the Lochaber Mountain Rescue team.

The hearing is expected to last three days.

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