Day of tragedy on Mournes as Robbie Robinson and Sean Byrne die in separate accidents
A former senior policeman was one of two men who lost their lives in separate accidents in the Mourne Mountains yesterday.
The deaths took place on Slieve Commedagh and on Wee Binnian around midday, the PSNI said.
One of the victims was named last night as former RUC Chief Superintendent Robbie Robinson, who had served as a District Commander in Co Down.
The second man who died has been named locally as Sean Byrne, who is believed to be a father from Camlough in south Armagh.
- Funeral of Robbie Robinson to take place this week
- Hurling club tribute to Mourne fall victim Sean Byrne
A third man was injured in an another incident in the mountains.
PSNI Inspector Frances McCullough said: "Police received a request for assistance after a male was reported to have fallen while walking on Wee Binnian shortly before midday and received a further request for assistance after a male was reported to have fallen while walking on Slieve Commedagh shortly before 1pm.
"Police and other emergency services responded, but unfortunately both men died at the scene.
"A third male was also rescued from the mountains with a suspected broken ankle following a fall close to the Saddle at around 2.30pm."
Both men died after falling from crags, according to the Mourne Mountain Rescue team,
Rescue helicopter 116 flew from Dublin to help in the emergency operation, but because of the poor weather conditions was unable to assist.
Twenty-one Mourne Mountain Rescue Team members were involved in the operation.
Mr Robinson, who was in his 60s, lived in Banbridge with his wife and their son.
Ulster Unionist councillor Ian Burns said he will be "sorely missed".
"I knew Robbie very well," he said.
"He lived in Banbridge with his wife Barbara and his family.
"He was an absolute gentleman. He was always so pleasant, always with a smile on his face.
"I would have met him every Sunday morning at church and he always had a wave and a smile for you, and many a morning we would have had a laugh together.
"Robbie was always very active.
"He would have been walking in the mountains quite a bit and would have been a keen cyclist.
"He was very fit and very much an outdoor person. He was a big part of our church, Holy Trinity Church, Seapatrick.
"He co-ordinated our church fete every year.
"Our rector told us all of the news on Sunday night.
"Everyone is in deep shock. People haven't had a chance to take it in.
"Robbie was an absolute gentleman who was always smiling and had time for everyone.
"We have a big church community, and everyone gets on so well with everyone, and Robbie was right at the heart of that.
"He will be very badly missed by everyone who knew him.
Former South Down SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said she had known Mr Robinson well while he was Down District Commander.
"It's dreadful to hear of his death in such tragic circumstances," she said.
"He was very well thought of, very jovial. It's very sad."
Newry and Armagh Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy told the Armagh website that the news a Camlough man was one of those who had lost their lives in the Mournes had resulted in "utter shock throughout the close-knit community".
Conditions on the mountains were described yesterday as "horrendous" by walkers who were on the slopes.
Natalie Irwin (41) from Dromore told the Belfast Telegraph she, her daughter and a friend had to turn back from their walk on Slieve Binnian yesterday because of the weather. "We had just gone up for exercise, but the weather closed in on us really quickly," she said.
"The wind was so strong it almost blew me off my feet.
"We had to hide under rocks from the gusts. We knew we had to turn back.
"We weren't as well equipped as we should have been, we just had gym gear on."
Natalie was with daughter Holly and friend Andrea.
"There were hundreds of people on Slieve Binnian alone, it was very busy," she said.
"Some of them even had little children with them, others were running up the track, others running down. Visibility was very poor, and it got dark very suddenly around 1pm.
"We had to run back because it was just so dangerous."
Christopher Rogan was on the Mournes yesterday morning with friends Andrew McCullough and Keith and Svenja Gadd.
He said weather conditions were worsening as the group descended.
"We were there at 9am on Sunday morning and the fog was very heavy and rain was light," he said.
"But as we reached a summit the conditions started to clear.
"So we had lunch at the top of a mountain around 11am.
"At that stage we could see clearly around us.
"But then we started descending, and at around 12 noon the winds really started picking up.
"At one stage the wind was so strong my friend was able to lean into it.
"The winds really did pick up at that stage but there was still loads of people and families heading up as we were leaving."
Public representatives offered their condolences to the families of the victims.
Sinn Fein MP Chris Hazzard said: "The tragic news that two men died today while walking in the Mournes will have shocked the entire local community.
"My thoughts and condolences are with the family and friends of those who tragically died in these incidents in the Mournes today."
Ulster Unionist Alan Lewis said: "My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the two men who have tragically died following separate incidents on the Mournes.
"Traditionally the trails are busy at weekends with walkers and mountain enthusiasts flocking to enjoy the iconic and scenic scenery the Mournes has to offer.
"Unfortunately today, what is a routine and enjoyable trip for many ended in absolute horror."
Independent unionist councillor Henry Reilly said Newry, Mourne and Down Council should consider placing information signs on the mountains in the wake of the tragedy.
"Everyone I have been speaking to this evening really are in shock at this tragic news," he said.
"The weather conditions were extraordinarily mild yesterday but there were really strong wind gusts and I think that has what has caught people out on the mountain.
"The severity of the winds at times yesterday would have literally blown you off your feet and that was on the lowlands, so up in the highlands you could multiply that several times.
"The mountains can be a very, very dangerous place.
"Our council has a policy of promoting the Mournes as a tourist venue and a walking destination.
"We have people coming from all over Europe and the world to walk in the mountains.
"Maybe we have to look at providing more information points and guidance for those walking up in the mountains, reminding people what they should do before they go up into the mountains and of the dangers of walking in the Mournes."