Belfast Telegraph

Army cadets rescue: Mournes beauty can swiftly reveal truly treacherous side

By Christine Carrigan

Sighs of relief could be heard from members of the rescue team as dishevelled teens taken down from the Mournes arrived off the mountain yesterday.

Some of the shivering young Army cadets looked distressed as they came down the mountain to emergency rescue Land Rovers at the mission's base on Head Road yesterday afternoon.

But the anxiety at base camp lifted as the majority of teenagers, some as young as 12 and dressed in waterproof clothing, albeit a bit muddy, were given the all clear by paramedics in waiting ambulances.

The dramatic rescue mission of the 63 cadets from Middlesborough got under way in the Mournes after treacherous weather conditions closed in on them quickly.

Local people said there had been torrential rain the previous night and the temperature had dropped sharply.

Initially the Ambulance Service had been alerted to a female casualty at 11.15am near Annalong Forest.

However, the routine rescue quickly escalated when a new message came through that the incident actually involved scores of youths.

There was a tense atmosphere at the rocky and partially flooded base camp, as personnel from the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team, Coastguard, Ambulance Service and PSNI came together to battle the elements and bring the children to safety.

In the background, the drone of helicopters which had joined the search filled the silence as ground crew waited for radio confirmation that one of the six Land Rover ambulances called to the scene would be coming back down the mountain with more teens.

In the end, a handful suffered ankle injuries after slipping on wet stones.

Others were treated for the effects of exposure.

DUP MLA Jim Wells paid tribute to the rescue teams at the scene. He said: "It is a textbook example of what needs to be done in this difficult situation, and a major tragedy has been averted.

"Last night was a horrible night here in Mourne - the heavens opened and it was as cold as a November night. They got caught in very cold conditions, and some of them have hypothermia."

It was a far cry from the previous day's weather, when one described seeing the group enjoying a walk on roads near Tollymore Forest Park in bright sunshine.

Throughout the spring, summer and autumn the Mournes are a popular destination for youth groups, ranging from Duke of Edinburgh participants and Scouts to organised treks by the many local outward bound centres.

The vast majority of these pass off without incident and prove a worthwhile and enjoyable challenge for teenagers who might otherwise never get the chance to test themselves in the wild.

However, when the weather turns dramatically and unexpectedly for the worse, as it did yesterday, groups can be caught out. Young people on their own can become disorientated in the low cloud.

Sometimes, when the best thing to do is to stay put, they can wander aimlessly and become lost.

If their clothing is not suitable for the conditions, young ramblers can become wet and chilled, body temperatures can drop and hypothermia becomes a real danger.

In April last year, a teenage girl on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition practice trek in the Mournes developed severe hypothermia and the rescue services were called out. Fortunately, on that occasion, the party was a well-trained, well-equipped group and the incident ended swiftly.

But injury can make a bad situation worse in remote mountain areas. High bracken, tufts of grass, boggy land and sudden drops are commonplace in the rugged highlands of the Mournes and a wrong-placed foot in any one of these areas can result in a sprain, a broken bone, or worse.

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