News story

Royal Navy rescues 1,000-foot-plunge climber

The Royal Navy's duty Sea King helicopter from HMS Gannet in Prestwick, Ayrshire, has rescued a climber who fell an eye-watering 1,000ft (305m).

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Part of a group of four climbers, Adam Potter, a 36-year-old man from Glasgow, and his companions had reached the summit of the 3,589-foot (1,094m) Sgurr Choinnich Mor, around five miles (8km) east of Ben Nevis, when the accident happened on Saturday afternoon, 29 January 2011.

Somehow he lost his footing and began to fall down the extremely steep and craggy eastern slope of the mountain.

HMS Gannet’s duty helicopter was already airborne on a training exercise and was alerted at 1405hrs. The crew reached the scene at approximately 1435hrs and began a search:

The top of the mountain was partially in cloud, but we spotted the group and they were able to point out the rough direction to us,” said Lieutenant Tim Barker, the crew’s observer.

We began to hover taxi down the slope and spotted a man at the bottom, standing up.

We honestly thought it couldn’t have been him, as he was on his feet reading a map. Above him was a series of three high craggy outcrops.

It seemed impossible. So we retraced our path back up the mountain and, sure enough, there were bits of his kit in a vertical line all the way up where he had obviously lost them during the fall.

It was quite incredible. He must have literally glanced off the outcrops as he fell, almost flying.

We were able to get in quite close to where he had landed and we winched our paramedic, Petty Officer Taff Ashman, down to the scene and it appeared that, beyond some superficial cuts and bruises and a minor chest injury, he appeared relatively unscathed.

He was shaking from extreme emotional shock and the sheer relief at still being alive.

We checked the height while we were in the hover and we were at pretty much bang on 2,600ft [792m], making his fall 1,000ft from the summit.

Once on board the helicopter, after having been winched up on a double-strap lift, to ensure he was as comfortable as possible, the casualty was reassessed by a doctor from the medical retrieval team in Glasgow who had been with the crew on the training exercise during the day.

The casualty was immediately transferred to Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital and was discharged yesterday - just two days after his fall.

As well as cuts and bruises, he has broken his back in three places, though without damage to the spinal cord, and is able to walk about with ease.

Adam has thanked the HMS Gannet crew for their swift actions and initial medical attention, as well as the rapid transfer into the hands of the medical teams at Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital:

He is lucky to be alive,” continued Lieutenant Barker. “It’s hard to believe that someone could have fallen that distance on that terrain and been able to stand up at the end of it, let alone chat to us in the helicopter on the way to the hospital.

Really an amazing result. I have to say, when we got the call and realised the details of where he’d fallen, we did expect to arrive on scene to find the worst case scenario.

It’s fantastic to have been able to come away with this kind of totally unexpected positive outcome. The whole crew was elated to share in this chap’s good fortune!

HMS Gannet’s full duty crew consisted of Lieutenants Al Hinchcliffe, Mike Paulet (both pilots) and Tim Barker (observer), and Petty Officer Taff Ashman (aircrewman/paramedic).

Published 1 February 2011