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Author Topic: Children rescued in major Mournes operation  (Read 670 times)


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Everyone probably already saw this story as it was major news. This article seems to clear up some of the details as on the day the news was pretty muddled.

THEIR eyes said it all. Wrapped in green foil blankets they sat silently on rocks at the side of a rough track worn down by thousands of boots at one of the most popular parts of the Mourne Mountains. Soaked and exhausted, some stared without focus into the thick mist that had enveloped the mountains while others showed mere passing interest to the frenetic activity going on around them.

Frenetic it was, but in a highly controlled way as the emergency services dealt with a major incident after dozens of teenage Army cadets became stranded on Wednesday morning as rain lashed the mountains and visibility fell to 50 feet.

The children sitting quietly at the side of the track were part of a group of 73 from Cleveland Army Cadet Force, in Middlesborough, who had gone into the Mournes on Tuesday for a one-night camp. They had been in Northern Ireland for 10 days, staying at the former Ballykinlar army base, as part of their two-week summer training camp, taking part in adventure training and cultural visits.

Aged between 12 and 17, the cadets were accompanied into the Mournes by 10 leaders and had decided to camp in the Annalong Valley, 300 yards from the popular Carrick Little track and close to Annalong Wood.

To get to their camp site the party had to cross a small stream, merely a step across on Tuesday, but it was to become an altogether different beast after a night and morning of torrential rain.

When the party awoke early on Wednesday morning the rain was sheeting down and the mist had reduced visibility to just a few yards.

The leaders started to get the group assembled to return to the car park at the Head Road where they were to be collected, just a 30-minute walk in normal conditions. But these were not normal conditions.

The rain had massively swollen the stream the group had crossed the night before and with the much larger Annalong River on the other side the party was effectively hemmed in — and it was still raining.

The group returned to the stream and around 10 of the cadets were able to cross, with difficulty, but others were finding the going tough. Several twisted knees and ankles and others were getting very wet and cold as the rain got inside their waterproofs and boots.

A decision was taken to return to the camp site and alert the emergency services that they needed help. There was some confusion early on and the first paramedic who attended initially thought he was going to treat one young girl. A short time later the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team believed it was going to help five young people and when the Coastguard was asked to task helicopters for evacuation the number was at 32.

By 11.30am it was clear the number of people needing rescued was double the Coastguard’s initial expectation leading the Ambulance Service to declare a major incident. People in Newcastle watched in astonishment as dozens of emergency service vehicles streamed through the town including over 20 ambulances, 4x4s and support vehicles from the Ambulance Service as well as several Land Rovers and an ambulance from the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team.

As the rescue expanded, Newcastle and Kilkeel Coastguard teams were tasked to the scene and later again the Police Mountain Rescue Unit and 30 members of the North West Mountain Rescue Team from the Sperrins also rushed to the small car park above Annalong that was the base for the operation.

The Coastguard was asked to prepare for a helicopter evacuation and tasked three to Annalong — R116 from the Irish Coastguard in Dublin and the UK Coastguard helicopters from Prestwick in Scotland and Caernarfon in Wales.

In Belfast the Royal Victoria Hospital was put on standby to possibly receive multiple casualties and some theatre lists were cancelled.

At the cadet camp site the leaders were doing their best to keep the young people warm and positive as the weather showed no signs of easing. Their concerns were heightened, however, when one young girl had two seizures and other cadets started to show signs of hypothermia.

Members of the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team and paramedics began arriving at the camp quite quickly and realised the party would require a huge operation to be evacuated safely from the mountains.

The helicopters, with a combined value of £105m, had arrived but because of the mist that had completely enveloped the Mournes, were all sitting in a field beside Annalong Marine Park. The pilots were driven to Head Road where they gave the Ambulance Service rescue co-ordinators, including Medical Director Dr Nigel Ruddell, the bad news that they would not be able to play any part in the rescue while the weather remained so bad. It was decided that the UK Coastguard helicopters would return to Scotland and Wales and the Dublin helicopter would remain on scene in case the cloud base lifted.

At the Head Road the Ambulance Service and mountain rescue experts decided the only way to remove the cadets from the mountain was by 4x4s driving around a mile up the rough but passable Carrick Little track which passed within 300 yards of the campsite.

The mountain rescue team members had already rigged up ropes to enable the safe crossing of the treacherous stream and those who could walk were taken to the track where they were met by two paramedics from the Ambulance Service who assessed the young people and kept a careful note of the numbers being recovered.

Three 4x4s from Newcastle and Kilkeel Coastguard teams and a Land Rover from the PSNI joined the rescue team in a shuttle up and down the mountain, bringing wet and tired youngsters down to the car park.

Once at the Head Road they were quickly put onto NIAS minibuses and driven down to Annalong Community Centre where a team was waiting to assess and treat them. Other leaders from the Cadet Force had also arrived and were helping out at the Head Road and in the community centre.

With the shuttle service now in full swing it was necessary to plan for the evacuation of several people who could not walk out. The young girl who suffered the seizures was stretchered out as were six others who had ankle or knee injuries or were suffering from hypothermia.

By this stage the police and North West Mountain Rescue teams had arrived and were able to assist in these more time consuming and hazardous rescues that involved carrying a stretcher across the swollen stream.

Once the final casualty was back at the Head Road at around 4.40pm the Ambulance Service was able to confirm that 63 young people had been brought from the mountain while most of their leaders remained behind until everyone had been recovered before gratefully accepting a lift down the Carrick Little track.

The Ambulance Service later confirmed that no-one had to go to the Royal Victoria. Sixteen of the cadets were treated for hypothermia at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry and several others for minor injuries.

On Thursday morning a team of army investigators arrived at Ballykinlar to begin an inquiry into why an overnight camp, just 30 minutes walk into the Mournes, should have gone so horribly wrong.

Among the issues they will be looking at are:

• Why the organisers ignored the weather forecast that for days had been warning of torrential rain and strong winds on Tuesday night and Wednesday

• The decision to camp between a river and stream when heavy rain was forecast

• Why such a large party of over 70 young people, some very inexperienced cadets, was taken into the Mournes rather than several smaller parties

• Whether there were sufficient leaders to look after such a large group of teenagers

• The handling of the incident by the leaders once the rescue services had been alerted.

The teenagers returned to Ballykinlar after being assessed in Annalong Community Centre and returned home to Middlesborough on Friday afternoon.



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Re: Children rescued in major Mournes operation
« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2017 »

That's a useful article to read and worth taking some time to consider the sorts of questions being asked.  The detail mentioned makes it pretty clear about the area in which they were camping.  The little stream can change significantly after rainfall, it's basically Binnian Lough emptying its overflow.  A friend got caught out there a couple of years ago and had to wade several times across the flow carrying gear and his children! 
"Not all those who wander are lost."

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