Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Sunday, 27 December 2009

Snowdonia helicopter rescues save seven in 24 hours

Image from the RAF rescue helicopter's onboard camera
The helicopter flew through 'atrocious' conditions to rescue the two men stranded on Gribin Ridge

Seven people have been rescued in four separate helicopter operations in Snowdonia in a little over 24 hours.

They include a dramatic rescue in heavy sleet and darkness to save two men trapped on a mountainside.

A mother and daughter were also flown to safety and a father and son were airlifted after straying from a path.

The alerts come just days after the launch of a campaign called MountainSafe appealing to walkers to prepare properly for wintry conditions.

While some of those picked up were well-equipped, others were said to be lacking the right clothing, equipment and knowledge to tackle the often poor weather.

Sdn Ldr Glenn Holmes
We made five or six attempts to get into where they were... each time we would find the cloud base was too low and the winds too rough
Sqd Ldr Glenn Holmes on the Gribin ridge rescue

The most dangerous operation was on Boxing Day night, when the RAF helicopter made five attempts to land and pick up two climbers, who were sheltering by a cairn on Gribin ridge in Snowdonia.

Rescuers were heading to them on foot when a break in the weather eventually allowed the helicopter to pick up the London pair after they called on a mobile phone at about 2000 GMT on Saturday.

They were well-equipped, but teams said they set off too late, leading to the third helicopter rescue of the day.

Chris Lloyd, of Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Team, said the pair, both in their 20s, had chosen to climb a snow-filled gully on Glyder Fawr.

He said: "By the time they had completed the gully, they were in cloud and darkness and were wandering around in circles."

By this time, weather conditions were said to be "atrocious," with heavy sleet, strong winds and low cloud.

Sqd Ldr Glenn Holmes, who was on board the 22 Squadron Sea King helicopter as it tried to land alongside the men, said: "It was awful.

Early afternoon, 26 Dec: Mother and daughter stuck up Carnedd Dafydd
Evening, 26 Dec: Man without torch on Devil's Kitchen
Late evening, 26 Dec: Two men trapped on Gribin ridge
Afternoon, 27 Dec: Father and son strayed off path

"We made five or six attempts to get into where they were. Each time we would find the cloud base was too low and the winds too rough. We would fly away for five or 10 minutes.

"Eventually we called in the rescue team. They were about a mile way from them when we found a big enough window to scoot in and grab the people.

"The cloud came down and engulfed us. We had to fly into the cloud, up and out to a safe level away from the mountains."

The men were dropped at the Ogwen Valley team's headquarters and the helicopter returned to pick up the rescue team.

Mr Lloyd said: "They possibly bit off more than they could chew.

"They shouldn't have set off as late as they did. They should have set off much earlier, especially when weather conditions were known to be deteriorating."

The alert was the 128th time the Ogwen Valley team was called out this year, twice the number of call-outs in 2008.

They had ordinary town boots on, not proper mountain boots, and no ice axe or crampons or spare clothing for winter conditions
Chris Lloyd, Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Team, on the Devil's Kitchen operation

The first post-Christmas operation was for two women, one aged 50 and her 21-year-old daughter, both from Oxfordshire, who were airlifted after becoming stuck about 1,500 ft (457m) up Carnedd Dafydd, a peak above the Ogwen Valley, on Saturday afternoon.

Then, the helicopter picked up a 46-year-old man from Cambridgeshire who found himself on the Devil's Kitchen above the Ogwen Valley, without a torch.

The fourth call-out came on Sunday and involved a father and son from the Wirral who were airlifted after straying off an ice and snow-covered path.

The father, who is in his 50s and the son, in his 20s, found themselves in deep snow at the Devil's Kitchen off Cwm Idwal in the Ogwen Valley.

The helicopter plucked them from steep ground as a six-member team from Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Team waited nearby.

Rescuers said the father and son did not have crampons and ice axes, considered "essential" equipment for walkers intending to go beyond low-level paths in the mountains.

Chris Lloyd, of the Ogwen team, said the pair decided to go off the beaten track.

He said: "They were not very well-equipped. They had ordinary town boots on, not proper mountain boots, and no ice axe or crampons or spare clothing for winter conditions.

Tracksuits and trainers

"They shouted across to people on the other side who then raised the alarm.

The rescue team made their way to within 200ft below the pair and waited as the rescue helicopter from RAF Valley arrived and was able to reach them.

A campaign called MountainSafe was launched last week urging walkers to make sure they are properly dressed and equipped before setting out, especially over the holiday season.

Shortly afterwards there was criticism of two sets of walkers who had to be rescued after trying to climb Snowdon in poor weather while wearing tracksuits and trainers.

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