Students lost on Cairngorms in bin liners 'lucky to be alive'

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The Independent Online

Rising from the edge of a forest in the heart of the Cairngorms, the heather-clad slopes of Meall a' Bhuachaille provide views of some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

Rising from the edge of a forest in the heart of the Cairngorms, the heather-clad slopes of Meall a' Bhuachaille provide views of some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

However, the Corbett peak, which takes its name from the Gaelic for "hill of the cowherd", is dangerously deceptive, as a party of English students and their teacher found to their cost on Wednesday.

The 40-strong team of 16- and 17-year-olds and their teacher were criticised by rescuers who found them lost, wearing summer clothes and trainers and wrapped in black binliners to ward off the rain on the misty slopes of the mountain.

Without a compass or a map, the group from the Beth Jacob Teacher's Training Seminary in east London broke almost every rule in the mountaineering handbook as they took to the slopes late in the afternoon.

According to locals, they had ignored advice and set off up the 810m-high mountain wearing their school uniform and carrying the binliners to protect against the weather.

Yesterday, rescuers who guided the group down said that the teenagers were lucky not to have been killed.

John Allen, the leader of the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team, said: "They were scattered all over the hill and, with that number, they were lucky there were no fatalities as they were already disoriented and would probably have begun to panic.

"We are normally not judgemental in these things but I think they broke every rule in the mountaineering book that was ever written," said Mr Allen, who has had more than 25 years experience dealing with rescues of all kinds in the mountains. He added: "I mean that sincerely and it is not often that I would say that. They were completely out of their depth and did not seem to take on board the seriousness of the situation. It is one of the worst, if not the worst, cases that I have come across of a group being ill-prepared going on to the mountains."

Inspector Steven Campbell of Grampian Police added: "It was very, very foolhardy to take such a large group who were so inexperienced on such an arduous trip. If the weather had deteriorated any more there could easily have been fatalities." A larger group from the college initially started on the walk but 17 students and three teachers turned back as bad weather descended, leaving just one teacher looking after the 40 remaining girls.

After getting lost, the teacher borrowed a mobile phone from one of the girls in the party to call for help but, because of her lack of equipment, could not give the rescue services details of her position.

Despite the best efforts of emergency services to talk the group down off the slopes, the problems of maintaining a clear telephone signal meant that 10 local volunteers from the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team had to set out after them.

"On this occasion our normal procedures governing school trips were not in place," said Rabbi Benyomin Dunner, head of the Beth Jacob Seminary for Girls, who claimed that the incident had been a "difficult time" for all involved.

"We apologise to parents and pupils and will be holding an immediate internal inquiry.

"We are also very grateful to the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue Team for their help, it was they who ensured that nothing more serious occurred."

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