THE survivor of a mountain tragedy told last night how he watched in

horror as his two best friends plunged 200ft to their deaths.

The three workmates were descending the ice-covered slopes of Ben Lui,

near Tyndrum in Perthshire on Monday, when two of them lost their


Mr John Johnston, of Monach Gardens, Dreghorn, Ayrshire, said: ''One

minute they were about 50ft in front of me. There was a swishing noise

and they had gone. Then there was just silence.''

Mr Malcolm Ronaldson, 47, of Leven Place, Castlepark, and Mr James

Heggie, 49, of Ochil Court, Middleton Park, both Irvine, were dead

before mountain rescue teams could reach them.

Mr Johnston, 42, said: ''It took me about 15 minutes to reach them.

They landed on a flat surface covered in ice.

''Malcolm was dead and James was barely alive. I put James in a

survival bag and made him as comfortable as possible.

''With daylight disappearing the best thing for me to do was to go for

help. It took me one and a half hours to reach a road, where I flagged

down a car to take me to the nearest cottage.''

The three men, all process operators at Beecham's chemicals plant in

Irvine, went off together regularly on climbing expeditions and had

already climbed 25 mountains together this year.

A police spokesman said: ''The men were experienced hillwalkers. They

were well equipped, with ice axes and crampons.''

The bodies were removed from the hillside by Killin mountain rescue


Central Scotland Police last night repeated an earlier warning that

many mountains were in a dangerous condition because of ice and frozen