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Widow speaks of grief over rescue death

A WIDOW has paid tribute to the climber who died on Ben Nevis while a helicopter crew was trying to rescue him.

shock: Mark Phillips was named as the climber who died on Ben Nevis. Above, how The Herald reported the incident.
shock: Mark Phillips was named as the climber who died on Ben Nevis. Above, how The Herald reported the incident.

Mark Phillips, 51, from Spean Bridge, was climbing with a friend in the Raeburn's Buttress area on the north face of Britain's highest peak when he fell around 160ft.

The father-of-one was still roped to his fellow climber, which broke his fall, and it is believed that although seriously injured, he was still alive when the helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth arrived on Monday.

It was during the air crew's attempts to winch him up that it is thought the safety rope was cut before he had been properly secured. Rescuers said it was a basic human error.

Caroline Phillips revealed the couple's love of the mountains had led the family to move from England to the Highlands more than a decade ago with their teenage son Ruaridh.

She said: "On February 25 my beloved husband, Mark, was enjoying the superb conditions the Scottish Highlands were affording. He had spent the previous few days climbing and walking in the hills with friends. Tragically, that day he sustained fatal injuries following an incident on Ben Nevis

"Mark and I, together with our son, Ruaridh, had moved to the Highlands about 12 years ago so as to live amongst the hills and community we had got to love.

"Mark was a loving father and husband and will be sorely missed by us and his many friends and work colleagues. Ruaridh and I thank them all for their support."

Sympathy has been expressed by one fellow mountain rescue worker for the helicopter winchman involved, who is understood to have been very experienced in mountain rescues.

Both Northern Constabulary and the Ministry of Defence are conducting inquiries and will not comment. However, new rescue protocols may be considered.

Mr Phillips was an environmental health officer with Highland Council.

His boss Neil Gillies, director of Transport Environmental and Community Services, said: "Mark was a popular, helpful and highly valued member of our team in Lochaber and always went about his business in an efficient and professional manner. He will be sorely missed."

Provost of Lochaber Allan Henderson said: "I am extremely saddened to hear about the passing of our valued colleague."

His death means that 11 have died in the mountains this year – two on Ben Nevis, four in Glen Coe and five in the Caingorms.

A member of one of Scotland's mountain rescue teams who has long experience of working with helicopters said that the military aircrews and mountain rescue teams can have different approaches to airlifting casualties from mountains.

He wished to remain anonymous but said: "The helicopter winchman normally tries to get lifting strops on to the injured party, one under the arms and one under the legs.

"For obvious reasons a helicopter pilot does not want any rope that is attached to the mountain to be attached to the aircraft at the same time. So once the person is safely in the strops, any rope would be cut away. It might well be that the rope was tangled and it wasn't clear it was still supporting him.

"However, mountain rescue teams take the view that anyone who has suffered a fall has possibly sustained neck or spinal fractures. So we like to get lifted in as near as possible to the casualty, do the first aid assessment, put them into a vacuum mat then into a stretcher."

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