Rescuers continue search for climbers

Mountain rescue teams will this morning resume the search for two men who have been missing in the Highlands for two days.

Rescuers on Ben Nevis called off their search for a climber who fell through a cornice near Coire Leis after blizzards set in yesterday afternoon.

Across the Highlands at The Cairnwell, near Braemar, search teams battled against 70-mile-an-hour winds to find a cross-country skier who became separated from his companions on Saturday. No one was found.

One climber was rescued yesterday. Alan Dryden, 47, from Fife, was swept off the slopes of the 3,000ft Glas Gheinn Mhor in Argyll when an avalanche struck. He suffered minor injuries. And two men, who were rescued on Creag Meagaidh, near Fort William, on Saturday were last night recovering in hospital. They suffered serious leg injuries after falling 200ft.

Meanwhile, seven climbers were brought to safety after they were caught in an avalanche in the Lake District. They belonged to two separate groups walking on Striding Edge on Helvellyn, Cumbria.

The latest rescue operations in Scotland came after three people died last week and mountain rescue teams, supported by police and the RAF, were called out seven times to help stranded climbers. The high cost of the operations has led to calls for new mountain safety regulations.

The cost of running Scotland's 26 mountain rescue teams, including search flights by RAF Nimrod and Sea King helicopters, reached £10m last year.

Bill Walker, the Conservative MP for North Tayside, who has criticised walkers and climbers who take to the hills in bad weather, yesterday urged the Government to introduce a compulsory mountain insurance scheme. He said: "My concern is that taxpayers are being asked to pay for these rescues. Climbers should be forced to have personal insurance and contribute to the cost of the operations."

But mountain rescue workers rejected his suggestion. Insurance schemes or attempts to limit access to peaks to all but the most experienced climbers would be impractical, they said. Team members added that regulations would destroy "the spirit of freedom which is the essence of mountaineering".

Donald Watt, chairman of the Mountain Rescue Committee of Scotland, said: "Everyone should have the right to take to the hills. That is the most important thing and we don't want bureaucrats in Whitehall who merely climb the stairs each morning introducing a whole series of silly rules governing what climbers and walkers can and cannot do, discouraging them from their sport. We are happy to work unpaid to rescue people, even those who have been foolish. We are climbers helping other climbers, and that is the way it should stay."

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