Saved from disaster on Mont Blanc – by a text to Shrewsbury

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The Independent Online

Two young British climbers who became stranded on a tiny ledge overhanging a precipice 11,500 feet up Mont Blanc were rescued after texting a friend in Shrewsbury.

Tom Greenwood and Finn McCann, both aged 23, had been climbing the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey peak on their way up the famous mountain when the weather closed in and trapped them on Wednesday.

With their mobile telephones almost out of battery power, they faced dying of hypothermia amid freezing weather conditions. But after they raised the alarm with a Mayday text message to a friend in Shrewsbury they were winched to safety by a helicopter after spending the night on the mountain.

High winds and poor visibility forced the first two rescue attempts to be called off, but they managed to reach the climbers on the third attempt.

Mr Greenwood and Mr McCann had set off from an Italian base camp in good weather conditions to climb the formidable south ridge route to the top of Mont Blanc. The climb went smoothly until at about 9,840 feet Mr Greenwood's shoulder was dislocated, and continued to pop in and out.

Despite the dislocation, a recurrence of an old weight-lifting injury, the pair decided to continue climbing. But when they reached a point 11,500 feet (3,500m) up Aiguille Noire de Peuterey, the weather closed in.

Heavy, icy rain poured down the rockfaces, making it impossible for the pair to go either up or down the mountainside. They tried phoning emergency numbers but found that they didn't work.

Mr McCann said: "We were worried about hypothermia and with two bars of battery between us we were really panicking. I'm not afraid to say that we were very scared. We tried the mountain rescue numbers but they didn't work, so we sent a text to a friend in Shrewsbury."

Their message got through and the friend was able to contact the rescue services, only to be told that the dreadful weather conditions meant any attempt to pluck them to safety would have to be delayed until the following day.

News of the delay, which reached them in a text from Britain when they dared to turn on their dying phones to check their messages, came as a severe blow. "We were desperate, it was unbearably cold and we were risking hypothermia, stuck on a tiny ledge above a huge drop," said Mr McCann.

"We spoke briefly to him and gave him our position and then we just got ready to bivvy [camp] out in the open for the night." Mr Greenwood used the last of the battery power at 5am yesterday to say they were "in real trouble" but the phone gave out before the call could be completed.

Shortly before 6am they were spotted by a helicopter crew. High winds prevented their rescue, but after a second abortive attempt a crew was able to reach them later in the morning.

Oscar Taiola, head of the Alpine rescue team, said: "They would have been wiser to stay at the base camp."

Aiguille Noire de Peuterey, known as the "Black Needle", is a mountain forming part of the Peuterey ridge used by climbers to reach the top of Mont Blanc, Europe's highest peak.