Veteran questions trek as 63 Army cadets saved from Mourne Mountains
Military veteran Doug Beattie MLA has said lessons must be learned after 63 Army cadets were rescued from the Mournes in an emergency that saw several teenagers being stretchered off the mountain.
The major incident involved 10 emergency teams rushing to the Mournes after the group - some as young as 12 - got into difficulties when the weather turned treacherous. The group from the Cleveland Army Cadet Force in England were two days in to their two-week trip to Northern Ireland and taking part in routine training.
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The alarm was raised shortly after 11am yesterday and the Coastguard, NI Ambulance Service and helicopter crews were called to the scene in the lower regions of the Annalong Valley.
While 56 of the group were guided down and taken to a nearby community hall, seven young people had to be stretchered off the mountain.
Four of the cadets were treated for hypothermia and exposure, and five suffered ankle injuries after slipping, the MoD said.
The Mourne Mountain Rescue Team said: "Seven of the group were stretchered as a precaution due to minor injuries and conditions.
"The team have been joined by members of the PSNI search and rescue team and the North West team to assist.
"The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service put in place their major incident plan to support the team with ambulance resources.
"The incident remains within standard procedures and in the complete control of the various services in attendance."
The Ulster Unionist MLA, who was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in Afghanistan, said it was a worrying incident.
"It was such a large group of Army cadets up the mountain and then the weather turned so nasty maybe they were caught on the hop," he said.
"Yes, there are lessons to be learned from this, but they weren't doing anything you wouldn't expect Army cadets to be doing. They are vulnerable people and we do have to look after them.
"In hindsight, and having seen what happened, you would of course say no, it wasn't a good idea for the group to go up the mountain.
"But when you take young people to places like the Mourne Mountains they do a very detailed risk assessment and make sure that they have very detailed plans in operation, and would have evacuation plans in place as well. I have worked with them on multiple occasions and fully understand what they do and why they do it and what they are trying to achieve.
"They could have been doing some navigation, learning how to live out in the field, doing some camping or team-building and personal development."
The children and 10 accompanying adults were brought to safety at 3pm.
SDLP MLA Colin McGrath wished all those involved or injured a speedy recovery.
"The entire incident does underscore the importance of having full respect for the mountains and how weather conditions can change and worsen in an instant and how groups need to have rigorous safety/exit plans from the mountains contained in their planning," he said.
"As a former youth worker, I can understand that it is your worst nightmare having responsibility for other people's children when things go wrong - but it is important to acknowledge that even the best prepared plans cannot take account for swift weather changes."
UUP councillor Jill Macauley said: "We have experienced some dreadful weather in the Mournes, but even so it came as a shock to learn that a large number of cadets required the assistance of the emergency services."