Mourne rescuers ‘take comfort from having done our best’

Carl Stephenson
Carl Stephenson

Despite the shock at the double deaths in the Mournes at the weekend, the Mourne mountain range is no stranger to tragedy.

(Read about the tragedy’s victims here).

Arguably the most well-known single death is that of Carl Stephenson, who was struck by lightning on Slieve Donard on April 8, 2006.

His body was found at the summit of the roughly 850m (2,789ft) mountain. The 29-year-old was a sergeant with the Royal Signals, and a plaque still remains in his honour at the summit.

And in a non-mountaineering tragedy, in October 2010 three people were killed when a helicopter struck Shanlieve Mountain.

Getting full figures for the number of deaths or serious injuries in the mountain range is difficult.

The Ambulance Service said the air ambulance has been in operation since August 2017, and from that date it has attended three incidents in the Mourne Mountain areas, none identified as fatal.

However, examining the updates from Mourne Mountain Rescue – a charity is made up of about 30 unpaid volunteers, active since 1962 – gives a small snapshot of the dangers that can await climbers.

On January 9 it said the past year had seen its team members dispatched to 52 incidents, compared with 45 in 2017.

It added that in that time the island-wide Mountain Rescue Ireland umbrella group of which it is part responded to 371 incidents throughout 2018 in total – an increase of 36%, a rise it blamed in part on “extreme weather events”.

Among the incidents in recent months were on December 2, when the charity said a man was airlifted off the Brandy Pad area after a suspected heart attack; on October 20, they said a runner injured their knee and dislocated a finger requiring them to be stretchered off Slieve Bearnagh; and on August 17 a male youth was stretchered off Hare’s Gap “when hit by a sheep jumping from an adjacent crag”.

Almost a year ago on January 20, 2018, it said that a man was airlifted off suffering hypothermia and suspected spinal injuries after falling while ascending Slieve Donard.

One of the charity’s members, Neville Watson, said: “Most of what we do results in a happy ending. You mightn’t be entirely happy if you’ve broken a leg or something like that – but a happy ending in terms of you have got someone out of trouble and into a better place

“Obviously, with a fatality that’s not something that can be delivered. But I suppose there’s a degree of comfort in knowing we’ve done the best we could to resolve the situation.”