Rescue team plucks freezing dad and son from Mournes
Experts have warned hikers to be on their guard after a father and son were rescued from a treacherous cliffside when a camping trip in the Mournes took an unexpected twist.
The pair set off for the Trassey area of the mountains on Sunday afternoon, expecting to return home by 4pm on Monday. But a change in the weather left them trapped on the side of a reservoir, sheltering against wind and rain.
Hours after they were due home, a frantic 999 call from their family prompted the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team to set out.
"The family didn't know where they'd gone to," explained Martin McMullan, who co-ordinated the rescue mission. "It was dark, windy, wet and visibility was poor."
Six search parties scoured huge area of the Co Down region in the dark, ruling out stretches where it was feared the walkers had come to harm.
A search and rescue dog from Donegal was on the ground from 3am, while the air operation – involving helicopters from the PSNI, the Irish Coastguard and Royal Navy – was halted because of the bad weather.
After five hours of hunting, at around 5.30am the father and son were found huddling together inside a tent high up on the side of the Ben Crom reservoir.
Knowing they were in difficulty and unable to retrace their steps back to safety, they had stopped, hoping someone would raise the alarm.
"There was a massive sigh of relief when we turned up," said Mr McMullan. "They were exhausted, mildly hypothermic and relieved to see friendly faces."
The rescue team's first priority was to make sure the walkers were dry, warm and unharmed, so they wrapped them in fleece-lined clothes and gave them something to eat before escorting the pair to safety. Martin said: "They were pretty calm and, although disappointed and frustrated that they ended up in that situation, they were just glad to be out again and heading home.
"No matter how brave or competent you are, when something like that happens it can be quite frightening. The fear sets in."
He added that the father and son were well-prepared, but the change in the weather had taken them by surprise.
"The nature of the environment means you can never tell what's going to happen," Martin said. "That's part of the challenge, but it does come with extremes. The weather was the extreme that caught these guys out."
The Mourne Rescue Team advised campers and hikers to properly prepare before setting off.
"Tell people where you're going," Martin said. "Leave them an exact route of where you intend to go and when you expect to be back. If there is a rescue, it lessens the time spent searching."
If you are in an emergency while in the mountains, the MRT advises you:
- Stabilise the situation. Don't let it get any worse. Wrap people up, keep them warm and protect them from the elements.
- If you can, signal for help. If you cannot, sit tight and wait for help to arrive.
- Carry enough emergency equipment so that you can look after yourself, should you end up staying in the mountains longer than you anticipated. Spare clothing and rations should also be stored in your backpack.