Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Failings by Army over Mournes trek shocking

Editor's Viewpoint

It is disturbing that the Army has admitted to serious failings in relation to a training exercise in the Mourne Mountains during which 70 young cadets were stranded.

Some of these cadets were as young as 12, having been marooned in treacherous weather conditions with inadequate clothing and supervision after a series of serious failures by the expedition's leaders.

A major rescue operation had to be mounted to bring the group to safety.

It is hard to believe that the rugged Mourne countryside was identified by the leaders as "normal terrain" when in fact it is properly designated as "wild country".

Unbelievably, the trek organisers depended on a phone app to find out the weather conditions.

The ratio of instructors to cadets - one to 13 - fell short of the recommended ratio of one to 10.

Despite being issued with weatherproof clothing, all the young people were soaked to the skin within half-an-hour of setting out. Many had also gone without breakfast.

Surely it was a matter of common sense for the leaders to find out these facts, and also to better judge the weather challenges, including the swift soaking the young people endured, and to then act accordingly.

Politician and Army veteran Doug Beattie told this newspaper at the time of the incident last year: "When you take young people to places like the Mournes, you do a very detailed risk assessment and make sure that there are detailed plans in place."

Clearly that did not happen on this occasion. The cadets, aged 12-17, were from Cleveland. They were children, irrespective of the Army's title of 'cadet'.

The instructors were effectively in loco parentis.

In this case they failed the parents and the children miserably.

The Army has described the incident, very chillingly, as a "near miss".

Such a description by the Army is extraordinary. This was much more than a "near miss".

In fact, it could have ended in more serious injury than exposure, and perhaps even in fatalities.

Mercifully, it did not come to that, but the Army's handling of the whole episode was simply not good enough.

It could have been much, much worse, and it is worrying that the Army instructors showed such poor judgment.

Lessons need to be learned all-round.

Belfast Telegraph

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