Letter: Should the taxpayer bear the expense of saving adventurous souls?

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The Independent Online
Sir: I write to express concern about the incident on Derry Cairngorm last weekend to which so much publicity was given, which resulted, fortunately, in the safe return of Jacqueline Greaves. I have often expressed the view, based on much personal experience in the Cairngorms, that weather conditions in those mountains can be as severe as in far higher ranges anywhere in the world.

To fall through a cornice - a hazard at any time on a snow ridge - is a risk that should not be taken in conditions of high wind and poor visibility. Indeed, it was irresponsible folly to have ventured at all on that high and exposed plateau in such weather.

What is more deplorable, however, is that the rescue of this lady, albeit thanks to her personal resolve and good equipment, should have cost the taxpayer a large sum, and that Mrs Greaves should have benefited by her story from certain newspapers. In the Alps such rescues have to be paid for by the victims or their dependants.

I suggest that the British Mountaineering Council may have to consider whether to recommend a departure from our tradition of such search and rescue services being financed at public expense.

Even more worrying is the deterrent effect that kind of incident can have on the provision of adventurous opportunities in the mountains and in other forms of recreation involving risks which, if conducted under proper safeguards, are so important in education, training and leisure programmes for young people. It would be most serious if such provision were to be curtailed on the grounds of such incidents as that on Derry Cairngorm, by public and, in particular, parental concern for the safety of many young people who greatly enjoy and benefit from such experiences.

Yours sincerely,




16 February

The writer was leader of the British expedition to Everest 1952-53.