Rescuer: Double Mournes tragedy ‘so unusual it almost beggars belief’

Slieve Commedagh (about 765m, or 2,510ft) is pictured in the centre left of this image, with Newcastle behind in the distance and Slieve Donard to the right (at about 850m, or 2,789m). Image taken from Google Maps.
Slieve Commedagh (about 765m, or 2,510ft) is pictured in the centre left of this image, with Newcastle behind in the distance and Slieve Donard to the right (at about 850m, or 2,789m). Image taken from Google Maps.

One mountain rescuer who responded to Sunday’s emergency in the Mournes said the dual tragedy “almost beggars belief”.

Neville Watson, of the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team charity, said both men appeared to have been “reasonably well-equipped” and “there was nothing to suggest they were inexperienced”.

The large mountain to the right of the frame is Slieve Binnian (about 747m, or over 2,451ft). On the left of the image is Silent Valley reservoir. The smaller rise in the forground is Wee Binnian (about 460m or so, or 1,509ft).  Image from Google Maps.

The large mountain to the right of the frame is Slieve Binnian (about 747m, or over 2,451ft). On the left of the image is Silent Valley reservoir. The smaller rise in the forground is Wee Binnian (about 460m or so, or 1,509ft). Image from Google Maps.

Both he and the Met Office said that whilst the winds were strong, the conditions were not unusual.

It is understood both men fell in excess of 20 metres (66ft).

READ ABOUT THE VICTIMS HERE.

Mr Watson said both climbers had been with other people at the time.

A Mourne Mountain Rescue Team vehicle on ''Wednesday August 2, 2017', 'as Army cadets, aged between 12 and 17, got into difficulties in the Mourne Mountains

A Mourne Mountain Rescue Team vehicle on ''Wednesday August 2, 2017', 'as Army cadets, aged between 12 and 17, got into difficulties in the Mourne Mountains

He stressed that the charity’s sympathies and condolences go out to the families of the two men.

Deaths on the mountain range “are not frequent”, he told the News Letter, adding: “And in recent years, when there have been fatalities, they’ve generally been down to natural causes – things like heart attacks and so on – as opposed to these kind of trauma incidents.

“That is unusual. And to have two within the space of a day is really quite extraordinary. Two unconnected incidents like this – it’s one of those unusual, chance things seems so unlikely it almost beggars belief.

“I guess it’s a reminder that unusual things do happen.”

Mr Watson said whilst Sunday had been “windy and blustery” it was nonetheless “relatively dry and bright for a large part of the day”.

All in all, the conditions were “not out of the ordinary”.

This was echoed by the Met Office which yesterday said that at noon in Killowen, its nearest station, located to the south-west of the Mournes, it was 11C and the wind was gusting at up to 45mph.

Forecaster Helen Roberts said this was “on the breezy side but not unusual”, though added that gusts on the mountaintops would be stronger.

One accident happened on Wee Binnian, a smaller ‘sister’ mountain to the full-sized Slieve Binnian. Like its larger namesake, Wee Binnian is topped by steep, rocky crags.

The other accident happened on the east side of Slieve Commedagh – the second highest mountain in the range.

Though the main approach to the summit of Commedagh is gradual and smooth, the east side of the mountain (which walkers heading up the Dark Steps towards the Saddle look directly out on) has a steep drop towards the river, marked by rocky scree.

When it comes to common factors between the two incidents, Mr Watson said: “I think human nature leads us to always look for order and reason in things.

“This is an anomaly – it’s an odd thing to have happened. I’m not sure we could really join the two things up.”