The team was called out this afternoon to rescue a walker stuck in difficult conditions on Ben Dorain. Team members walked up and found him safe and well and accompanied him off the hill.
Unfortunately a sad outcome to Saturday morning’s rescue. Condolences to the family from all at Oban MRT.
Oban MRT were called out at 01:00am on Saturday morning to assist an injured hill walker on Beinn an Aighenan above Glen Kinglass. The casualty had fallen on steep ground near to the bealach between Beinn an Aighenan and Ben Starav. Thankfully conditions were clear and helicopter Rescue 177 was able to fly direct to casualty and recover to hospital. The team was stood down while approaching the RV in Glen Kinglass.
The casualties location was in the remotest part of our area, and without helicopter assistance would have resulted in a very long and protracted rescue, so a big thanks to Rescue 177.
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It has been almost two years since I so nearly paid the ultimate price for my passion for the mountains and the outdoors in general. While I was very lucky to survive a fall that on another day would have proved fatal, it is still very difficult to comprehend how I did manage to survive. What I do know is that, not only am I fortunate to be alive, but that I am extremely fortunate to be physically able to type this at all.
The day began early on Saturday the 11th of November 2006 and a drive from Helensburgh to Bridge of Orchy. There were two Munros to tick off, Beinn Achaladair and Beinn a’Chreachain. The weather for the day was going to be typical for mid-November in Central Scotland. A cold North wind and a light snow covering on the ground, but dry and with excellent visibility to enjoy the fine views from the summits. My sixteen year old son, Michael was joining me today and we set off for the 90 minute drive to Achallader Farm where the farmer has kindly set aside an area for car parking.
Having decided to tackle the route anti-clockwise, giving an easier walk-out, we set off through Coire Achaladair to the bealach. The burn was fairly icy, but there were no difficulties in crossing. Once on the bealach we turned up the long ridge to the summit of Beinn Achaladair. The views were stunning, but we didn’t linger, as the gusts had really picked up and were picking up the light snow covering. We headed down into more sheltered ground and had some food and a hot drink. By this time, we had put on warmer clothing, a decision that later would become lifesaving. Suitably refreshed, we started to head towards Beinn a’Chreachain. It was at this point, that the day changed course which almost proved fatal. Michael complained of pain in his ankle.
He had recently completed the West Highland Way, but with some discomfort. There was still a fair bit to go, but I gave him the option, and at the time, he made the correct decision not to continue. Whether I made the next decision correctly is something that I still think about, even though there is nothing I can do to change anything. Heading back up and over Beinn Achaladair was out of the question and I felt that the most direct route off the mountain, with a shorter distance to the car would be the best for Michael’s ankle. However, I didn’t plan for such a rapid descent. We headed towards the forest and the Water of Tulla. Although the ground was steep, there wasn’t much descent to cope with to reach easier terrain.
We had left much of the strong gusts behind and things should’ve been easier at this point. But in an instant, it was a turn of foot on some ice that almost proved my undoing. I had stopped and turned to see what Michael was doing when my heel slipped slightly. It was enough to spin me and to instantly lose my bearing. Pack-side ended up over the slope and I lost my balance. I hit the ground hard but couldn’t stop, just continued to pick up speed and bounce down the mountainside, colliding with several rocks on the way. I’ve been asked many times if had lost consciousness at any point. Fortunately I didn’t. Although this meant that I remember every hard contact with rock, and there were quite a few, I was able to regain some composure once I had stopped. The downside was that I was very aware as soon as my arm broke!!
It’s strange what goes through the mind. My first thought was “I’m supposed to be going out for dinner tonight” Weird!! But reality soon kicked in especially when I heard my son shouting. Thankfully I was able to answer him. I can only imagine the horror in his mind when he saw me fall and the relief when I answered him. To his credit, he phoned 999 straight away. Although he had just seen me take the most horrendous fall and that he wasn’t completely sure of his location, he got things moving with the description that he was able to pass. It was then that some panic set in and he lost his footing coming down to me. He broke a couple of bones in his hand and bumped his head, which caused him to lose consciousness, though thankfully for a short time. One he reached me though, I’m sure I wasn’t a pretty sight. Although my jacket had stayed intact, I knew that my arm was in a bad way. I was also aware of a gash on the top of my head and a sharp pain in my back. Michael appeared to be in one piece and not fazed by his fall, although I’m sure that he was trying to be brave for me as well. I would think that he realised that I was in the shit!!
I had lost my pack in the fall and we had no idea where it was. Later, when I was able to look back at things, I could see a chain of events that were all positive to me staying alive. The first was the decision to take the insulating gear out of the pack and put it on. The second was to carry two mobile phones with different networks (although they both worked) and to keep them in our jackets. It’s something I’ve always done. But getting signals on the phones was to be the most crucial. I was able to phone 999 and speak to the operator. I even got the pronunciations correct, although I failed the Grid Ref test!! The most surreal moment was being asked for a postcode!! I vaguely remember an expletive at that point!! Once the call had been made it was time to take stock of our situation. I knew the weather was expected to worsen later in the evening, when we’d planned to be miles away, and I knew that we’d be glad of the warm gear. I also had some chocolate in my jacket and we had plenty of battery life on the phones. There was no possibility of self-rescue so we had to sit tight.
The pain in my back was excruciating. I believed the pain was due to being wedged against some rocks, so I had told Michael that I needed to move. There was no way that I could have stayed in that position for hours. Michael was set against it. I was wedged slightly onto my left side, so I tried to move with my right leg. When nothing happened, I knew that something was badly wrong with the leg as well as the arm. I decided to sit tight!! Over the next few hours, the police phoned back and Michael replied to a text from his mum. I’m in trouble now, I told him!!
Darkness was closing in and the wind had picked up. The cold stopped the bleeding from my head and I was in less pain and discomfort, but I was also acutely aware what else it was doing to me. I kept talking and wiggling things!! We talked about anything and everything. Self-determination and the will to survive is an amazingly powerful emotion, although I would rather not have to experience it again. I knew that I was fading but, foremost because of Michael, I knew that I had to keep going. We could see cars on the A82 Fort William road. It was so surreal to see how close they were.
After what seemed like an eternity, we could see the head torches of the Mountain Rescue Team approaching from the road. While this was a very heartening sight, the sound of a helicopter approaching was a sound and emotional experience that I will never forget. By this time, the wind was as bad as it had been on the summit and it had started to rain. We were so close to being rescued and I was really struggling. Michael was doing so well, but he was beginning to feel the strain and probably the effect of his injury as well. The Police were phoning back and I had to tell Michael not to get too upset with them. It became obvious that the helicopter hadn’t picked us out. Even worse the M.R.T. were heading away from us!! To hear Michael when the helicopter flew off was heartbreaking and he was very difficult to reassure.
What we learned some time after, was that the helicopter didn’t have infra-red (it does now) and had gone to pick up the Arrochar M.R.T. They were dropped off higher up and came down in the direction that we had taken. The Oban M.R.T. had been sent to wrong corrie and it was only by some foresight from the helicopter crew that saved the day. The M.R.T. turned off their head torches and Michael was told to light up the phones. On the helicopter’s return, they immediately picked us out. The M.R.T.s were with us soon after that. I remember the rustling of a survival tent and swearing as I was moved.
The last thing I remember is one of the guys speaking to Michael, then, I don’t remember anything for five days. I’ve been told that once I knew that he was safe, my mind and body just relaxed. I was flown to the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow and was critical throughout the night.
My family were told to prepare for the worst. My rescuers didn’t think I’d make it either!!
At some point, over the next couple of days, I stabilised and was then able to undergo surgery. I woke up on the following Thursday. Although there were times in A&E I had been conscious and communicating with my family, that whole period is a complete blank. However, it was on the Thursday that I learned the full extent of my injuries.
I knew about the broken arm and the gash on the head. I had also broken 7 ribs on the left side (the pain in the back), my right hip (why I couldn’t move my leg) and had also broken my neck. Particularly fortunate that I couldn’t move at all!! I was transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Spinal Injuries Unit within the hospital. The unit is staffed by a highly professional and dedicated team of nurses, doctors and consultants, which is an understatement.
Despite my injuries, I made rapid progress, and amazed everyone, myself included, by walking (very aided!!) out of the hospital, two and a half weeks later. My recovery has been within the 2 year diagnosed timescale but there have been setbacks and further operations, which, in the scheme of things, are minor glitches.
I have also been fortunate to have attended the Northern Police Treatment Centre in Perthshire on several occasions and have received first class physiotherapy.
There have been many snippets of information that I’ve picked up since the accident.
The 9 inch gash in the side of the helicopter due to the gusts, the time added on to to the rescue by poor communication, the most incredible flying that the MRTs have ever seen, stopping breathing in the helicopter, my core temperature was measured 33 degrees, to name but a few.
One episode does stick out though. I remember lying in bed in the Spinal Unit and watching the search for two young lads who were missing while ice-climbing in the Cairngorms, only to succumb to the conditions a short distance from safety. I knew then that I would go back to climbing, but that I would never grumble or give up during my recovery and would always realise how lucky I am.
Briefly, in May 2009, I am going to complete a route called the Scottish 4,000ers. Nine peaks over 4,000 feet and fourteen peaks over 3,000 feet. The trek will last 9 days, all wild camps or bothies and over 30,000 feet ascent. I would like to raise as much money as I possibly can on behalf of the Oban and Arrochar Mountain Rescue Teams. There is a separate fund for the Northern Police Treatment Centre.
I hope that all of you who read this can see how just the slightest slip, while enjoying our passion, can have such an impact.
I hope that you will support me.
Ian, Kenny and I took the landrover up the track that follows the River
Tulla as far as the river crossing and left it there to strike out
across the wooded hillside and railway line in direction of estimated
location on edge of Coire an Lochain.
We reckoned the railway line would be a little faster than the trail
through the wood. The train company is usually warned that emergency
services are on the line during a rescue and it was assumed that any
trains on the line would slow down as they passed the area. Later when
we ascended above the woodland, we heard a train approaching from Fort
William direction and it certainly didn’t sound as if it was on a go
slow! Kenny shouted in his radio to the teams coming up behind us to get
off the line. A very timely warning by all accounts!
We were at around 500m up the hill when the chopper arrived overhead. It
seemed to be spending more time than it should circling above us and the
lower hill when the casualties were likely to be much higher. The shout
leader radioed for us all to switch our head-torches off and after a short
wait the helicopter moved off up higher. It was not long after then that
we were relayed the message a light had been picked up by the helicopter
crew’s night sights in the coire Allt na Crainnach coire below Ben
Achaladair and we were to head there. Luckily the confusion over lights
meant we had not got as far to the east as we might have done and made
an immediate and swift detour to the coire.
A short clamber up the steep slope below the coire lip and we were
standing on the edge of the coire. It was then that we first caught the
unforgettable site of a pin prick light shining at us from the back of
the coire over a kilometre away. This was the light of Michael Tunney’s
mobile phone screen which we later discovered Tunney junior steadfastly
holding up in desperate attempt to guide us to their location. It
worked! Without it we could have taken a lot longer to sweep search the
coire to find them. Time Michael did not have considering his condition.
All the way up Ian, Kenny and I had been in relaxed, good humoured
spirits. We were on a shout in anticipation of what we probably assumed
(or at least hoped) to be two reasonably fit and well casualties with a
couple of injuries. Despite training for the worst case scenarios warm
and healthy volunteer casualties can never act like the real thing. So I
think we all took a second to recover from the initial shock of finding
what was clearly the real thing. We all exhaled a few unrepeatable
expletives as we took in the scene! From that point on my memory of
events at the back of the coire is a bit of a blur. Kenny and Ian were
more experienced medics than I so they immediately took responsibility
for the two casualties. My attention was drawn mostly to Michael Tunney
because he was obviously in the most immediate need of attention.
Basically he looked like a bag of bones huddled in a semi-feotal
position with half his back exposed to the elements. The most response
anyone got from him was occasional grunt and moan which at least meant
he was alive, breathing but obviously in a lot of pain. Meanwhile his
son was sitting up on a nearby boulder, we kind of expected him to
become animated with the relief of our arrival and prospect of help. But
he didn’t. He was probably still in shock, exhausted with the weight of
responsibility for his Dad, cold and in pain from his own injuries. Ian
was struggling to get him to respond to his questioning about what had
We all began to run through the standard casualty care routine. Kenny
and Ian going over their initial check for injuries etc. At one point
Kenny exclaimed and pointed me in the direction of Michael’s forehead
which seemed to come away as Kenny lifted his hat!
Other members of Oban, Arrochar and Strathpol teams started to arrive
fairly quickly after that. More experienced medics arrived particularly
Eddie (GP) from Arrochar who luckily was not with his team mates dumped
at the top of the hill. He took over from Kenny with treatment of
Michael whilst Robin (OMRT chief medic) took over Michael junior. At
least 6 of us got stretcher and casualty bags ready to lift Michael
senior. We took special care lifting him as carefully as we could so
that his spinal column remained aligned because of very likely spinal
injuries he might have. The actual lift into the stretcher elicited a
lot more groaning from Michael which considering his relatively
unresponsive state suggested he was in a lot of pain.
Whilst we packaged Michael senior, the Arrochar team arrived with a
second stretcher which by then Michael junior was in need of. The
Arrochar team had had a tough time descending down the back of the
corrie from where they had been dropped by the helicopter. They had
basically picked their way down the route the Tunney’s had fallen.
We reached the bottom of the corrie with Michael senior to a point that
seemed flat enough for the helicopter to land. It seemed like a long
wait while we first heard and then watched the helicopter very slowly
work it’s way up the hill and into the coire. We found out later from
the crew that the winds were so fickle they were struggling to maintain
a steady course up to the coire. When it did finally arrive it settled
one wheel on the ground and hovered whilst we manoeuvred the stretcher
into the hold. Then we waited a futher 10 minutes whilst the other
team carried Michael junior down the corrie and got him into the
helicopter as well. Seconds later the helicopter took off towards
Glasgow and the drama was over. All the remaining gear was collected
and we made our way back down the hill to the vehicles and Bridge of
Orchy for a welcome bowl of soup. I remember having a fairly elated and
satisfied feeling that we had managed to get the two casualties off the
hill with what seemed like good team work by all those involved.
Michael Tunney Rescue – This is a basic timeline of the rescue from the
position of the co ordinator of the rescue. in this case the Oban MRT
1643 Initial Callout: the details given were “Mobile phone callout from
son. Father and 16 year old son, dad fell descending from Beinn
Achallader/Beinn A’Chrechinn ridge. Dad had broken arm in a lot of pain.
Neither had any kit as they had lost their rucsacs in the fall.”
Estimated location from description given believed to be roughly 364449,
quite awkward to get to.
Weather conditions were cold, snow for top 200m, windy, variable
1800 First Oban team left vehicle from 338451 with complete medical
1825 Second Oban team left 338451 with stretcher.
1835 Mixed Oban/Arrochar and Strathpol (Strahclyde Police MRT) team
left approximately to help carry kit up.
1845 Remainder of Arrochar team and some stathpol arrived at car park
1850 Rescue 177 arrived on scene and conducted search with night vision
goggles. Casualties did not appear to be at initial estimated position
and eventually casualties were located further round hill by using their
mobile phone to shine up as light source. Position was approximately
352436. To 177 the casualties appeared to be half way up a crag and they
were uncertain whether access was from top or bottom. 177 returned to
uplift 6 Arrochar team members with second set of kit and put them on
ridge to approach from top whilst initial teams approached from below.
2016 First Oban team team reach casualties, quickly followed by next 2
teams. The route up had changed direction several times as the location
had altered and we had also had to stop all teams and get them to turn
torches off to enable use of night vision goggles by 177.
Both casualties appeared to be seriously injured. Dad was evacuated
first and due to be taken straight to Southern General by 177 whilst a
2nd stretcher was obtained but Arrochar who had approached from above
and were having difficulties finding a route down past the crags managed
to get round and stretchered son off.
2220 Both were taken to Southern General by 177 which had managed to
maintain a hover in nasty winds whilst the son was carried down the
2330 All teams off hill, soup and sandwiches provided by Bridge of
Things were going quite peacefully over Christmas, no committee meetings, no arguing over what jackets the team should buy, no arguing where the landrover should be kept or who Kenny will allow to drive it! Lunchtime on Friday 4th January and I was talking to Kenny Harris in WH Smiths, catching up on happenings over the festivities, and commenting on how quite it had been with no callouts. Three hours later saw Kenny, Dave Hamilton, Neil McGougan and myself aboard Rescue 177 flying up into the corrie on Beinn Udlaigh. A climber had fallen while climbing Sunshine Gully and had broken a lower leg. The chopper dropped us in the corrie bowl and we then had to sprint up to the base of the cliffs with all the stretcher, cas bags and stuff. Close behind on the second chopper trip were seven others who had arrived. The casuality had been well looked after by the people he was climbing with and was comfortable and out of the wind. We soon had him on the stretcher and of back down the corrie in a series of lowers over steep icy ground, back to the drop of point and loaded him into the helicopter. He was flown to the Vale of Leven Hospital where he underwent surgery on his leg.