Page last updated at 20:04 GMT, Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Three climbers die in avalanches

Ben Nevis
Police were alerted to the Ben Nevis incident by a member of the public

Three people have died after three large avalanches on Scottish mountains.

Rescuers found the bodies of two of the climbers in Number Three Gully on the north face of Ben Nevis following a large snow slide.

It later emerged that a 54-year-old man who had been rescued from Liathach Ridge, Torridon, had also died after being airlifted to hospital.

Two other climbers were rescued from an avalanche on Beinn an Dothaidh in Argyll.

The incidents came just hours after a warning from Sportscotland Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) about hazardous conditions on the hills.

RAF mountain rescuers - including a team from RAF Leuchars in Fife that had been camping out in a bothy near Newtonmore - were involved in the Ben Nevis search.

It appears they were in the wrong place at the wrong time
Ch Insp John Chisholm
Northern Constabulary

The two dead climbers, one of whom is understood to be from the Wiltshire area and the other from Wales, are thought to have been among a group of five who were all caught up in the avalanche.

Ch Insp John Chisholm of Northern Constabulary said: "They were all well-equipped, highly-experienced and European-accredited climbers.

"But it appears they were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team leader John Stevenson said conditions on the mountain were difficult.

"Our lads were being buffeted by the strong winds which was making things very unstable and there was a lot of snow slab about," he said.

"It was extremely dangerous for the rescuers and we had spotters out to watch for any of the team getting into trouble."

Northern Constabulary said its officers had been alerted following a report from another climber of a large avalanche several hundred metres in length in the Coire Na Ciste area of Ben Nevis.

The force said the two climbers would not be formally identified until relatives had been informed.

Torridon Mountain Rescue Team and dogs and handlers from the Search and Rescue Dog Association helped in the search for the avalanched man on Liathach.

Map showing location of the three avalanches
Three avalanches were reported on Scottish mountains on Wednesday

The climber, who is believed to be from Derbyshire, was flown by a coastguard helicopter to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

However, police later revealed that he had died. A spokesman said: "No further details will be released until next of kin have been informed."

A coastguard helicopter also flew the Argyll climbers to Belford Hospital in Fort William for treatment.

In January, three people lost their lives in one of Scotland's most serious avalanche incidents, which happened on Buachaille Etive Mor at Glencoe.

Brothers John Murphy, 63, from Portrush and Eamonn Murphy, 61, from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, along with Brian Murray, 46, of Monifieth in Angus, died.

The three killed were members of the An Teallach Mountaineering Club and among nine people caught by the avalanche.

Unusually calm and extremely cold weather has raised the risk of avalanches in Scotland's mountains, according to the SAIS.

The service have been monitoring surface hoar, a phenomenon rarely seen in Scotland.

The snow crystals form a slippery layer when buried under snow and are the cause of many avalanches in the Alps and North America, according to SAIS.

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