'Damning report' on failings that Army cadets stranded in Mourne Mountains
A series of failings led to an Army cadet expedition in the Mournes ending in a major rescue mission, a report has found.
Children as young as 12 were stranded in the Co Down mountains last August when the weather became treacherous.
They were part of a group of about 70 - 10 of them adults -from the Cleveland Army Cadets Force taking part in a camp.
Eight had to be stretchered off the mountain.
A report into the incident, obtained by The Observer, identified basic failings.
Army documents said the incident "could easily have been more serious", and can "best be described as a 'near miss'."
It refers to inadequate supervision and clothing.
Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie - a former solider - said: "This report is damning.
"We are very lucky that the incident finished as well as it did because the outcome could have been so much worse.
"It is absolutely clear that lessons have to be learned."
Around 70 children from Cleveland army cadet force were walking across the Mournes on August 2 last year when the weather turned.
The group was left isolated and exposed to the elements, with the Coastguard, ambulance and helicopter crews all involved in the rescue mission.
Internal Army reports on the rescue, released under the Freedom of Information Act, discuss how the incident "could easily have been more serious".
They said "the conditions for potential and serious failure had existed for some time".
They also question the risk assessments carried out before outdoor adventure programmes and raised the need for adequate contingency planning.
One assessment said that the trip's exercise director had assumed the Mournes were classified as "normal" when they are actually designated as "wild country", m aking them unsuitable for the training of certain classes of cadet.
It said: "It is suspected that some of the leaders/supervisors were not sufficiently qualified or experienced to lead expeditions in the Mourne Mountains" and added that two of the cadet teams did not have a dedicated adult instructor.
Normally such trips would have an instructor to student ratio of 1:10. But one team leader was responsible for 19 cadets.
The report said: "On arrival (at the emergency rendezvous) there were only five adult instructors with the 64 cadets remaining on the mountain (a ratio of almost 1:13), which exceeded all of the recommended ratios."
The report also described how expedition organisers used a weather app to ascertain the conditions, which was unsuitable for establishing the true conditions the cadets would encounter.
Mr Beattie said it was clear that basic precautions had not been taken.
"It highlights a number of fundamental failings that should never have happened," he continued.
"When you run any form of expedition or exercise it must be thoroughly planned and look at the capabilities of the people you are taking out and what happens in the event of something going wrong.
"It is absolutely clear - and I thought this at the time - that this was not planned to the level it should have been."
The Ministry of Defence was contacted for comment, however it had not responded by the time of going to press.